Testing The Keyword Method


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This is a research essay for ALED322-08B 'Language and Cognition in Life' from the University of Waikato '08.

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Testing The Keyword Method

  1. 1. Testing the Keyword Method ALED322-08B: Emma Dyck #1004393
  2. 2. Introduction <ul><li>As a language teacher, and an avid student of language and linguistics, I am always looking for strategies and techniques which assist in the acquisition of foreign languages. </li></ul><ul><li>In this presentation I aim to briefly outline some research on the mnemonic technique called the Keyword method, account for the early stages of studying Spanish by implementing this technique, and provide evidence supporting and criticizing the use of this technique in learning a foreign language. </li></ul><ul><li>Finally, in keeping with the ‘in-life’ aspect of this paper, I will suggest how the Keyword method can be applied when learning and teaching foreign languages. </li></ul>
  3. 3. What are mnemonic devices? <ul><li>Robert Solso (1991) discusses how mnemonic devices have been in use since the times of the ancient Greeks and how they “enhance the storage and recall of information contained in the memory” (Solso, 1991, p. 238). </li></ul><ul><li>He goes on to say the most successful mnemonic techniques assist in both the storage of information in the memory as well as recalling this encoded information. </li></ul><ul><li>This information can range from memorizing shopping lists, peoples names and birthdays, to learning foreign languages. </li></ul><ul><li>Some of the mnemonic devises Solso outlines are Method of loci, the Peg Word system, Organizational schemes and the Keyword Method; devices that are still useful today in improving the memory. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Keyword Method and learning foreign languages <ul><li>While Atkinson and Raugh (1975) were not the ones to invent the Keyword method, they have certainly contributed the most to research concerning the implementation of this mnemonic to learning a foreign language. </li></ul><ul><li>One quote of theirs in particular stood out to me: “Many foreign language instructors believe that the major obstacle to successful instruction is not learning the grammar of a language, but in acquiring a vocabulary sufficient to engage in spontaneous conversation and read materials other than the textbook” (Atkinson & Raugh, 1975, p. 133). </li></ul><ul><li>With this in mind, I decided to investigate further the research of Atkinson and Raugh, and to test out the theory for myself, focusing on the acquisition of Spanish vocabulary. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Ashcraft, 2002 <ul><li>“ Formal mnemonic devices rely on a pre-established set of memory aids and considerable practice on the to-be-remembered information in connection with the pre-established set. Informal mnemonics, such as those you invent yourself, generally are less elaborate, are more suited to smaller amounts of information and are more idiosyncratic and personalized” (Ashcraft, 2002, p. 206). </li></ul><ul><li>One major criticism of mnemonic techniques is their ability to process information not just in the working memory but deeper into the long term memory. Ashcraft says in order to do this, there needs to be “sufficient time to apply the recording scheme” and that the recoding scheme should be well learned (Ashcraft, 2002, p. 164). </li></ul><ul><li>What this means for the Keyword method is that, as a formal mnemonic technique, adequate time is needed to learn the strategy, and then time is needed to apply it to the vocabulary and grammar the student is attempting to learn. </li></ul>
  6. 6. So, what is the Keyword Method? <ul><li>The Keyword method is described by Solso (1991) as a slightly different form of the Peg Word system, where a set of words are learned as ‘pegs’ on which items to be memorized are ‘hung’. The Keyword Method differs in that the keyword is “an English word that sounds like some part of a foreign word” (Solso, 1991, p. 241). A link is then formed between the foreign word and its English meaning by creating a mental image. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: “pato” is the Spanish word for duck. Acoustic link: Pato is similar in sound to pot-o. Using the word “pot” as the key word, a subject can imagine a duck with a pot over its head. </li></ul>
  7. 7. So, what is the Keyword Method? <ul><li>Atkinson and Raugh (1975) describe it as a two stage process: “The first stage requires the subject to associate the spoken foreign word with an English word, the keyword, that sounds like some part of the foreign word; the second stage requires him to form a mental image of the keyword interacting with the English translation. Thus, the keyword method can be described as a chain of two links connecting a foreign word to its English translation through the mediation of a keyword: the foreign word is linked to a keyword by a similarity in sound (acoustic link), and a keyword is linked to the English translation by a mental image (imagery link)” (Atkinson and Raugh, 1975, p. 126). </li></ul><ul><li>Example: ‘zdanie’ is the Russian word for building. Acoustic link: zdaine sounds like ‘zdawn-yeh’, or ‘dawn’ in English, so a subject can imagine the pink rising sun reflected in building windows. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Atkinson and Raugh, 1975 <ul><li>The Keyword method was used by Atkinson and Raugh (1975) in second language instruction. </li></ul><ul><li>Aim: to test the Keyword method on a non-Romance language – Russian. In a previous study of the Keyword method to the acquisition of Spanish vocabulary, Raugh and Atkinson “found large differences between the Keyword method and various control conditions” (Atkinson & Raugh, 1975, p. 127). Most participants in the experiment had studied at least one other Romance language and were able to recognize cognates, so a language more foreign to English was required. Russian was then selected as the test language as none of the subjects had studied it previously. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Atkinson and Raugh, 1975 <ul><li>Method: “In preparing a test vocabulary, a keyword is considered eligible if it satisfies the following criteria: (a) the keyword sounds as much as possible like a part (not necessarily all) of the foreign word; (b) it is easy to form a memorable image linking the keyword to the English translation; (c) the keyword is different from the other keywords in the test vocabulary” (Atkinson & Raugh, 1975, p. 127). </li></ul><ul><li>A 120-word test of Russian vocabulary was devised, where subjects were taught 40 words per day. “They received instructions from a cathode-ray display scope, listened to recorded foreign language words through headphones, and typed responses into the computer by the means of a console keyboard” (Atkinson & Raugh, 1975, p. 127). </li></ul>
  10. 10. Atkinson and Raugh, 1975 <ul><li>The experiment took place over 4 consecutive days, numbered 0-3. </li></ul><ul><li>On day 0, students were familiarized with the procedure of the experiment and with the equipment. </li></ul><ul><li>On days 1-3, the cathode-ray tube presented students with either the keyword and the English translation, or the English translation alone, while the Russian pronunciation was presented through the headphones. </li></ul><ul><li>They were presented simultaneously at a rate of 10 sec per item, 40 words per session, 3 sessions per day. </li></ul><ul><li>Any words that were incomplete or incorrectly spelled were marked incorrect. </li></ul><ul><li>No immediate feedback was given. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Atkinson and Raugh, 1975 <ul><li>Results: “On all measures the Keyword method proved to be highly effective, yielding for the most critical test a score of 72% correct for the keyword group compared to 46% for the control group” (Atkinson & Raugh, 1975, p. 126) </li></ul><ul><li>A surprise comprehensive test was given on day 4, and later on day 30-60 (average 43 days after day 0). </li></ul><ul><li>Atkinson and Raugh suggest it is probably more effective if the subjects are provided with the keyword, rather than having to generate it themselves, but acknowledge the gap between provided and generated results was small. </li></ul><ul><li>Also, the method may prove more useful for a beginner, and become less useful as the student progresses and becomes more familiar with the language. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Testing the Keyword Method <ul><li>Over a five week period of time, I worked through the BBC online Spanish course, “Spanish Steps” at www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish , completing one session per day, 4 sessions per week. </li></ul><ul><li>In each session, 10 new words were introduced as nouns, verbs and in the context of questions. In addition to this, at least one grammar point was provided per session to practice implementing the new vocabulary. </li></ul><ul><li>To supplement this, I also worked through a suggested website from the BBC course, www.studyspanish.com . Please navigate to this page and click on the tabs “Vocabulary” for lists of words (free), and “Pronunciation” to work through the flash cards and to hear the correct pronunciation of the words in the vocabulary lists. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Testing the Keyword Method <ul><li>I selected 120 words based on Atkinson and Raugh’s criteria and compiled them into cue cards for initiating testing at the conclusion of the course. </li></ul><ul><li>On one face of the cue card was the Spanish word, and on the reverse, the English word capitalized above the keyword phrase. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Testing the Keyword Method
  15. 15. Results <ul><li>Word were presented to me on cue cards, and I had to use the correct pronunciation of the Spanish to aid me in remembering the English translation. Also, I had to remember the keyword in order for the tested word to be counted as correct. </li></ul><ul><li>When tested, I scored 82.5% correct using the keyword method (99/120 words correct). </li></ul><ul><li>It is important to note that some differences occurred between my learning and testing of the Keyword method to Atkinson and Raugh. While participants in the Atkinson and Raugh experiment had 4 days to learn and be tested with the method, my learning took place over several weeks, giving me more time to rehearse each word. Also, my ‘learning’ of 40 words per day was spent generating my own keywords for the Spanish vocabulary, again, giving me more time to think, rehearse and generate meaningful connections between the Spanish work and an English keyword. One consistency between my testing and Atkinson and Raugh’s subjects is the summative 120 word test on day 4. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Challenges <ul><li>As I worked through the course, I kept a running log of any challenges I faced or question that arose. Some of these were: </li></ul><ul><li>What about the difference between abstract and concrete nouns? </li></ul><ul><li>How do you remember gender? </li></ul><ul><li>Can verbs be learnt in the same method as nouns? </li></ul><ul><li>Can the Keyword method be applied to pronouns? </li></ul><ul><li>What about conjunctions? </li></ul><ul><li>What about students who cannot image? </li></ul>
  17. 17. Challenges <ul><li>It seems from the studies I have read, and based on my own testing of the Keyword method, that the method works best on concrete nouns. While abstract nouns, such as peoples feelings, could have the Keyword method applied to them, they do fall outside of the criteria set by Atkinson and Raugh. </li></ul><ul><li>As for remembering gender, the Spanish word “la manzana” meaning “apple” provided an example of how gender can be confused. The Keyword I used was MAN, but the definite article ‘la’ is feminine. Usually though, I tried to make keywords for feminine nouns feminine, masculine nouns masculine if possible. </li></ul><ul><li>Verbs can be learnt in the same way as nouns – “comer” the Spanish verb “to eat” was remembered with the image of me eating a comet. </li></ul><ul><li>I had no success applying the Keyword method to pronouns or conjunctions, but I would be interested to look into these in more depth and see if it is possible to apply it in other languages. </li></ul><ul><li>For students unable to image (as discussed in Topic 4 forum) sketching images, cutting pictures from magazines, or even providing keywords to students are probable options. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Gruneberg, 1998 <ul><li>I am not the only person to question the application and validity of the Keyword method. Two interesting commentaries I came across in my readings are Gruenberg (1998) and Hall (1981). For the purpose of this assignment I have only included Gruneberg’s comments, which are as follows. </li></ul><ul><li>The Keyword method is described by Gruneberg as “highly advantageous when compared to rote learning”, but “it is still an open pedagogical question as to whether keyword usage is advantageous on motivational grounds alone” (Gruneberg, 1998, p. 532). </li></ul><ul><li>Wang et al (1992) do show that immediate retrieval is necessary to long term consolidation of the Keyword method images, and this produces “greater long term retention than rote-learning” (Gruneberg, 1998, p. 530). </li></ul><ul><li>Long term retention of foreign vocabulary is possible if testing occurs immediately and relearning tasks to aid retention are available. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Gruneberg, 1998 <ul><li>In defense of the Keyword method Gruneberg says “the conclusion that supplying learners with mnemonically derived images does not produce long-term retention advantages is totally unwarranted” (p. 530). </li></ul><ul><li>The Keyword method, when learning new vocabulary, improves performance on immediate tests of cued recall. </li></ul><ul><li>“ It seems unclear that Thomas and Wang (1996) should say that there is “no clear demonstration of a benefit on long-term retention with this mnemonic” when the fourth experiment of Wang et al (1992) shows beneficial effects, as does the experiment by Atkinson and Raugh (1995) even after a six week delay” (Gruneberg, 1998, p. 530). </li></ul>
  20. 20. Some other thoughts… <ul><li>From my own experience testing this theory, I found that the best results were for the words I had rehearsed when working through the online course, and later, when generating keywords. </li></ul><ul><li>Generating keywords was difficult, but research is inconclusive if providing students with the keyword or if generate keywords themselves is the better method for implementing this mnemonic, especially in the long term. </li></ul><ul><li>Languages are complex. While the Keyword method works well for learning vocabulary, it would probably be more effective if used in conjunction with other strategies for other aspects of language such as grammar. </li></ul><ul><li>If I were asked the Spanish word for ‘fish’ could I remember it? How effective is the Keyword method when working in reverse? </li></ul>
  21. 21. Retrieval <ul><li>One major concern surrounding this mnemonic is its effectiveness in producing long term results – the ability to retrieve the information after a prolonged period of time. </li></ul><ul><li>The Keyword method seems to work best when learning concrete nouns and when tested immediately. But coming back to Ashcraft, how effective is this method in the long term consolidation in the memory, and then subsequent retrieval? </li></ul><ul><li>Fritz, Morris, Acton, Voelkel and Etkind (2007) conducted three experiments comparing the Keyword method to other mnemonic techniques and rote learning. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Comparing the Keyword Method with other mnemonic techniques <ul><li>“ An even more challenging aspect of language learning is to learn to produce the foreign words for English words, known as productive rather than receptive language learning” (Fritz et al , 2007, p. 510). </li></ul><ul><li>This testing involves being presented the English word, and then producing the foreign word for it. Productive language learning, can prove difficult when working with the Keyword method, as (in theory) the practice would then be to create a keyword in the foreign language in order to facilitate the recall. </li></ul><ul><li>This may be possible for students who have some proficiency in the foreign language already, but would be impossible for students new to the foreign language. As a result, another mnemonic technique may need to be used instead of, or in conjunction with, the Keyword method. </li></ul><ul><li>Fritz et al (2007) have investigated exactly this idea. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Fritz et al , 2007 <ul><li>Aim: In their experiment, subjects studied pairs of English and German words using a variety of rehearsal and mnemonic techniques in order to ascertain which techniques provide the best results for language acquisition. </li></ul><ul><li>Method: In the first set of words, subjects used the elaboration technique (e.g. a breakdown of compound words into the separate translations; The German for “dentist” is “zahnarzt”. “Zahnarzt” consists of the two words for tooth and doctor (Fritz et al , 2007, p. 512). </li></ul><ul><li>In the second set, the Keyword method alone was used, and in the final set, the Keyword and Retrieval methods were combined. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Each subject studied the items using both a booklet in which the items were presented and tested and a personal tape recorder through which the same instructions and items were presented with appropriate German pronunciation” (Fritz et al , 2007, p. 512). </li></ul>
  24. 24. Fritz et al , 2007 <ul><li>Results: While the Retrieval practice produced a higher number of correct translations than the Keyword method, combined use of the Keyword method and the Retrieval practice produced the highest scores across the board. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Another possibly important difference is that the participants in this experiment were considerably younger and less experienced. If a genuine difference was to arise between the strategies, we would predict that the Retrieval practice strategy would provide relatively greater benefits when the demands of the test were greatest” (Fritz et al, 2007, p. 518). </li></ul>
  25. 25. Conclusion: Is the Keyword method a viable technique to use? <ul><li>“ In the real world of learning second languages, students are expected to rehearse, individually and in groups, outside of class; thus, we argue that evidence of spontaneous rehearsal during the retention interval is desirable to evaluate the effectiveness of a teaching method” (Fritz et al, p.519). </li></ul><ul><li>“ Retrieval practice and the keyword method offer considerable opportunities to help learners of all ages and in many situations to acquire new information with speed, reliability and comparative ease. These techniques can be organized by teachers on behalf of a class or group and used as an effective way of spending class time. Teaching students to use the techniques independently as well, could extend the effectiveness of the method and equip them with effective learning strategies for wider application” (Fritz et al, 2007, p. 520). </li></ul>
  26. 26. Final thoughts… <ul><li>Over the course of this assignment, I have learned that when applied in a classroom context, the Keyword method cannot be used solely on its own if optimal results in all aspects of language acquisition are desired. Language consists of vocabulary, grammar (such as verb conjugations) and syntax which cannot be accommodated for by the Keyword method alone. </li></ul><ul><li>The Keyword method is a highly esteemed and proven to be an effective mnemonic. It is very useful for learning vocabulary at any age, especially concrete nouns, however learning words in an isolated fashion and out of context does not promote fluency in language. Therefore, the Keyword method would be most effective when used in conjunction with other learning techniques in my second language classroom. </li></ul><ul><li>Retention and retrieval appear to be the main focus of criticism of this technique, which requires immediate testing to help consolidate new information, as well as regular rehearsal and subsequent testing at a later date. Which leaves me considering for my next assignment how we should be testing in second language classrooms, and if this needs revision. </li></ul>
  27. 27. References <ul><li>Ashcraft, M. H. (2002). Cognition (3rd Ed.) (pp. 164, 206-209). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education. </li></ul><ul><li>Atkinson, R. C., & Raugh, M. R. (1975). An application of the mnemonic keyword method to the acquisition of Russian vocabulary. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory , 104, 126-133. </li></ul><ul><li>Fritz, C. O., Morris, P. E., Acton, M., Voelkel, A. R., & Etkind, R. (2007). Comparing and combining Retrieval practice and the Keyword mnemonic for foreign Language learning. Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology , 21, 499-526. </li></ul><ul><li>Gruneberg, M.M. (1998). A commentary on criticism of the keyword method of learning foreign languages. Applied Cognitive Psychology , 12, 529-532. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish . Accessed 28/08/08. </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.studyspanish.com . Accessed 28/08/08. </li></ul><ul><li>Pressley, M., Levin, J. R., & Delaney, H. D. (1982). The Mnemonic Keyword Method. Review of Educational Research , 52, 61-91. </li></ul><ul><li>Solso, R. L. (1991). Cognitive Psychology (3rd Ed.) (pp. 241-243). New York: John Wiley & Sons. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Further Reading <ul><li>McDaniel, M.A. & Pressley, M. (1984). Putting the keyword method in context. Journal of Educational Psychology , 76, 598-609. </li></ul><ul><li>Hall, J.W., Wilson, K.P. & Patterson, R.J. (1981). Mnemonics: Some limitations of the mnemonic keyword method for the study of foreign language vocabulary. Journal of Educational Psychology , 73, 345-57. </li></ul><ul><li>Hall, J.W., Owens, W.L. & Wilson, K.P. (1987). Presentation rates and keywords in vocabulary learning. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society , 25, 179-81. </li></ul><ul><li>Pressley, M., Levin, J.R. & Miller, G.E. (1981). The keyword method and children’s learning of foreign vocabulary with abstract meanings. Canadian Journal of Psychology , 34, 283-87. </li></ul><ul><li>Pressley, M., Levin, J.R., Digdon, N., Bryant, S.L. & Ray, K. (1983). Does method of item presentation affect keyword method effectiveness? Journal of Educational Psychology , 75, 686-91. </li></ul><ul><li>Wang, A.Y. & Thomas, M.H. (1995). Effect of keywords on long-term retention: help or hindrance? Journal of Educational Psychology , 87, 468-75. </li></ul>