Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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English language learning through viewing television: An investigation of comprehension, incidental vocabulary acquisition, lexical coverage, attitudes, and captions

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posted on 2021-11-13, 12:45 authored by Rodgers, Michael P.H.

In the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) setting it may be a challenge to obtain the second language input necessary for language learning. A potential source of input may be episodes of television; however, little previous research has been done indicating whether episodes are a suitable source of aural input for EFL learning. Past research has concentrated on short videos of a type that learners might not choose to learn English from. The experimental design employed in this thesis expands upon earlier methodologies by employing full-length episodes of television intended for an English-speaking audience. The thesis is comprised of five studies investigating aspects of language learning through viewing television. The first study examines comprehension gains from the first to the tenth episode viewed, comprehension across 10 episodes viewed, and the effects of vocabulary knowledge on comprehension. The results showed significant comprehension gains from the first to the final episode viewed. Comprehension scores across the eight intervening episodes were all higher than the initial episode but scores were episode-dependent. The results also showed small to moderate correlations between vocabulary knowledge and comprehension for each of the 10 episodes. The second study investigated the effects of viewing over 7 hours of television on incidental vocabulary learning, and the effects of the frequency and range of occurrence of lower frequency words within the episodes on vocabulary learning. Two tests measuring knowledge of form-meaning connection at differing sensitivities were used to assess vocabulary knowledge. Results showed vocabulary gains of approximately six words on both tests. Frequency of occurrence was found to have a medium-size correlation with vocabulary gains. No significant relationship was found between range of occurrence and acquisition. The third study examined whether increased lexical coverage leads to increased comprehension of television and greater incidental vocabulary learning. Results showed that comprehension improved with increased lexical coverage for six of the 10 episodes. In these episodes, participants with approximately 94% lexical coverage were found to have higher comprehension scores than participants with less lexical coverage. Results showed no significant relationship between incidental vocabulary acquisition and lexical coverage. In the fourth study, two surveys examined language learners‟ attitudes towards learning English through viewing episodes of television. One survey followed each episode and examined learners‟ beliefs about: their enjoyment of the episode, the usefulness of studying English through viewing the episode, their level of learning from the episode, and their comprehension of the episode. For all items, mean responses were significantly higher following the final episode than following the first episode. On the survey that followed viewing all the episodes, participants had generally favorable attitudes towards language learning through viewing television. The fifth study investigated how the presence of captions affected the aspects of language learning examined in Studies 1 to 4. The most salient finding from this study was that the presence of captions improved comprehension for episodes early in the viewing process and for difficult episodes. Taken as a whole, this thesis shows the value of using episodes of television for language learning.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Applied Linguistics

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

930102 Learner and Learning Processes

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Webb, Stuart; Nation, Paul