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Comunicar Journal 50: Technologies and Second Languages (Vol. 25 - 2017)

The tablet for second language vocabulary learning: Keyboard, stylus or multiple choice


Mobile technologies are increasingly finding their way into classroom practice. While these technologies can create opportunities that may facilitate learning, including the learning of a second or foreign language (L2), the full potential of these new media often remains underexploited. A case in point concerns tablet applications for language practice: while tablets allow writing, as in pen-and-paper exercises, current applications typically offer multiple-choice exercises or fill-in-the-blank exercises that require typing and tapping. This change in medium and practice modality might have an impact on the actual second language-learning. Based on the embodied cognition perspective, this study hypothesizes that, for the learning of French L2 vocabulary, writing leads to better memorization, spelling, and use of diacritics in comparison with typing and completing multiple-choice exercises. This hypothesis is tested in a quasi-experimental classroom-based study in which learners (N=282) practiced French vocabulary on a tablet in one of three modalities: multiple choice, typing, and writing by means of a stylus. Whereas all three practice modalities aided learning, results show that pupils who had practiced vocabulary by writing or typing obtained higher scores on spelling and use of diacritics than the pupils who had practiced by means of multiple choice. Spending more time on learning vocabulary at a higher processing level leads thus to greater vocabulary gains.