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Ge, Z. G. (2015).

Enhancing Vocabulary Retention by Embedding L2 Target Words in L1 Stories: An Experiment with Chinese
Adult e-Learners. Educational Technology & Society, 18 (3), 254265.

Enhancing Vocabulary Retention by Embedding L2 Target Words in L1

Stories: An Experiment with Chinese Adult e-Learners
Zi-Gang Ge
School of Network Education, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, China //

(Submitted June 26, 2014; Revised November 4, 2014; Accepted January 29, 2015)

This study aims to investigate the effectiveness of a storytelling approach in Chinese adult e-learners
vocabulary learning. Two classes of 60 students participated in the experiment, with 30 in the experimental
group and 30 in the control group. The storytelling approach and the rote memorization approach were
employed by the two groups respectively in one teaching session of 30 minutes. Two post-tests were
administered to the two groups, with one completed immediately after the teaching and the other assigned three
weeks later. A questionnaire survey was also assigned to the experimental group to obtain the learners
perceptions of the storytelling approach. The results of the data analysis showed that the storytelling method was
more effective than rote memorization in both short-term retention and long-term retention, though its effects
tended to diminish a little bit with time. Possible suggestions to perfect the method were given in the paper.

Vocabulary retention, Storytelling, Rote-memorization, E-learners

Vocabulary items are often deemed as building blocks of a language (Amirian & Heshmatifar, 2013). Without the
knowledge of a certain amount of vocabulary in the target language, learners cannot effectively learn to listen, speak,
read, or write in the language (Nation, 2001). Fukkink et al. (2005) echoed this view by claiming that understanding
will be greatly hampered without knowing the words meanings in a text.

Various methods have been suggested or tried for vocabulary acquisition. The most common way is to use a
dictionary. Many scholars have examined the use of various dictionaries in vocabulary acquisition (Amirian &
Heshmatifar, 2013; Chiu & Liu, 2013). In these studies, printed, digital and online dictionaries have been examined.
Dictionaries, especially electronic and online dictionaries have been proved to enhance vocabulary acquisition and
increase vocabulary retention span. But the dispute over dictionary use in vocabulary learning is always an
unresolved issue, as some scholars (Knight, 1994; Schmitt, 2000; Erten & Tekin, 2007) claimed that learners needed
to use more contextual or semantic clues to infer words meanings but not frequently look up the words in

Other than dictionaries, some scholars (Liao & Chen, 2012) examined the possibility of using lexical games or
storytelling to facilitate vocabulary acquisition. In their study, Liao and Chen found that the games of Poker and
Chinese chess could boost learners lexical growth and retention. Princes study (2012) tried to use the method of
embedding target words in a story to improve learners vocabulary retention efficiency, and the results concluded
that the story approach was effective in eliciting short-term memory of vocabulary.

Another vocabulary learning approach frequently discussed by scholars is the application of various vocabulary
exercises. Lin and Hsu (2013) in their study compared the effectiveness of hierarchy vocabulary exercises and
copying vocabulary exercises, and found that students doing the hierarchy vocabulary exercises outperformed those
receiving copying exercise in both vocabulary gains and long-term retention. Another study (Hashemzadeh, 2012)
proved that learners could recall more words by doing the normal type of blank-filling exercise.

No matter what methods are employed, they inevitably deal with the two stages in the process of vocabulary
learning. The first stage is to get to know the word, or to memorize the word, and the second stage is to retain the
word in memory as long as possible. Compared with the first stage, the second stage often presents a more difficult
problem to language learners, as it is a very common phenomenon for learners to forget a words meaning over a
certain time span. As there is no clear-cut distinction between the two stages, the above mentioned methods are also
explored in many studies as to their effects on vocabulary retention over a longer period of time. But till now few

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studies about vocabulary acquisition and retention have been done in an e-learning environment, which is the major
theme of the present study. Another feature of the present study is that it tries to use an L1 (Chinese in this case)
context to facilitate L2 (English in this case) vocabulary learning, which is different from many of the previous
studies that tried to teach L2 vocabulary in an L2 context.

Review of literature
Vocabulary retention span

As mentioned in the previous part, the first stage in vocabulary learning is to memorize the target words. But the
problem is that these words might not be correctly recalled over a long period of time. This problem obviously has to
do with our memory (Gu, 2003). Memory, though a commonly used word in daily life, is more frequently explored
in the psychological world. Parle et al. (2006) defined memory as the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving

From an information processing perspective, three types of memory can be identified: sensory memory, short-term
memory and long-term memory (Carlson, 2010). Sensory memory is to tackle the sensory information which is
perceived by sensory receptors (such as eyes and ears). An example of sensory memory is that after we have been
exposed to an item, we probably will remember it at other times when we see it again. According to some scholars,
this type of memory is very limited in capacity and cannot be prolonged via rehearsal (Sperling, 1963). Short-term
memory deals with the information perceived in an active and readily available state. Like sensory memory, the
capacity of short-term memory is also very limited, though the capacity can be increased by using the technique of
chunking (Miller, 1956). Unlike the former two types, long-term memory is both larger in capacity and longer in
duration. It is said that information held in long-term memory can remain indefinitely (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968).

From the above analysis, it is clear that information held in long-term memory is most likely to be retrieved over a
long period of time, which is also a desired outcome in vocabulary learning. In other words, the ultimate goal of
vocabulary learning is to retain the target words in our long-term memory, so that we can easily retrieve them when
we want to use them.

Various ways have been examined to prolong learners vocabulary retention span. Laufer and Osimo (1991)
investigated the use of second-hand cloze (which in the researchers words means filling in the target items in a
summary version of the original texts) in vocabulary learning, and they found that this technique could improve
long-term retention of words. They inferred that the effectiveness of this technique lied in the fact that it not only
embodied some features of other memorization techniques, but also overcame their shortcomings. Rodrguez and
Sadowkis study (2000) compared four methods in vocabulary learning, namely rote rehearsal, context, keyword,
and context/keyword. Rote rehearsal is more commonly referred to as rote memorization, which means repeating the
target words until they can be recognized. The context method is to infer the meanings of the target words from the
general situation that relates to them. The keyword method is to infer the target words meanings from certain words
related to the target words. Their findings indicated that the context/keyword combined method would produce better
learning outcome in long-term vocabulary retention. Parle et al. (2006) proposed that regular rehearsals were useful
in transferring vocabulary knowledge from short-term memory to long-term memory. Gorjian et al. (2011), through
their study, found that asynchronous computer-assisted language learning approaches would exert a significantly
better impact on vocabulary retention over a longer time span, and they believed that these CALL approaches
benefited both high and low achievers in long-term vocabulary retention.

In the study done by Nemati (2009), the author examined the impact of some memory vocabulary mnemonics on
long-term retention and found that the memory strategies were more effective in inducing long-term retention. In the
authors mind, memory strategies belonged to the highest level of information processing and thus would produce
long-term vocabulary retention. In her mind, being simply exposed to words without deeper levels of information
processing could not enhance long-term vocabulary retention. Ghorbani and Riabi (2011) did a similar study about
the impact of memory strategies on EFL learners vocabulary retention, and the results also showed that memory
strategies could greatly enhance long-term vocabulary retention. In her follow-up study, Nemati (2013) investigated
the impact of teaching vocabulary learning strategies on short-term and long-term retention, and found strategies

such as grouping (words with meanings related to the same topic) could significantly enhance both short-term and
long-term retention of lexical items.

Storytelling and vocabulary learning

Among the various ways employed to boost vocabulary learning, storytelling is one of the oldest, as it is an ancient
verbal activity used for information sharing, entertaining and many other purposes (Soleimani & Akbari, 2013). Gere
et al. (2002) defined storytelling as the human activity of using oral or body languages to exchange information.
McDrury and Alterio (2003) also hold a similar viewpoint about storytelling, and in their mind storytelling is a very
important way for human beings to perceive the world.

Storytelling has been used in language teaching and learning for many years; for example, it is widely used as an
effective approach to teach L1 and L2 languages to pre-school children across the world, which can be exemplified
by the popularity of stories like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood.

When we turn our attention to vocabulary learning, we may find storytelling is also frequently used. Many studies
have supported the claim that incidental vocabulary learning can be achieved by reading or listening to stories (Elley,
1991; Shu et al., 1995). Kirschs study (2012) focused on the use of storytelling to teach German lessons to primary
students, and the results showed that the stories helped the learners to recall a considerable number of words.
Princes study (2012) explored the effect of storytelling by embedding the target words in L2 sentences which
revolved around certain topics. His study indicated that embedding target words in a story could enable learners to
have better short-term vocabulary retention than when sentences are unrelated. In an attempt to see whether
vocabulary acquisition from teacher explanation and repeated listening to stories could overcome the Matthew effect,
Penno et al. (2002) found that children in the early years of school could learn vocabulary from listening to stories
and that the learning outcome could be further enhanced by repeated story presentations and the supplementary
explanation of difficult words from the teachers, though the methods did not overcome the Matthew effect.

As stories can be told by using different media, some research has been done to explore the different types of
storytelling used in vocabulary learning. One study compared digital storytelling and paper story reading as to their
impact on vocabulary retention rate, and the results showed that digital storytelling would increase learners
vocabulary retention rate more than story reading only (Ttni & enel, 2013).

The usefulness of storytelling in vocabulary acquisition lies in the fact that stories can provide learners with a
network of associations of the target words, or in other words, stories can provide contextual clues to language
learners (Bowen & Marks, 1994; Penno et al., 2002). As Bowen and Marks (1994) noted, words would be often
remembered when they appeared within the context of a story, because the new words were in rich networks of

The present study

It is generally believed that L2 vocabulary is best learned when the learners can get much input of the target
language (Krashen, 1989). And a common idea held by scholars is that the meaning of an L2 word can be best
understood or even guessed out in an L2 context (Fischer, 1994; Nassaji, 2003; Huang & Eslami, 2013). But things
are quite different in the Chinese e-learning environment. Most Chinese e-learners are of low-level English
proficiency (Ge, 2011; Ge, 2012), so the context of too many L2 words might overwhelm them and discourage them.
With this characteristic of learners in mind, the author of this paper tries to use the L1 context to help learners L2
vocabulary learning.

The present study aims to compare the impact of the storytelling approach and the rote memorization approach on
adult e-learners vocabulary learning. The participants would take an immediate post-test and also a delayed post-test
to examine their learning outcomes. A questionnaire survey would also be administered to those receiving the
storytelling approach, with the aim to obtain their perceptions of the approach. The data obtained will be analyzed to
address the following two research questions:

Are there significant differences in the learning outcomes of the storytelling approach and the rote
memorization approach?
What attitudes did the participants have toward the storytelling approach?


60 participants were selected from an e-learning institution located in Beijing, China. They were all the first-year
students majoring in computer sciences, ranging in age from 21 to 36 years old. They were randomly assigned to two
groups, with 30 members in each group. Group A (the experimental group) was to receive the storytelling approach
and Group B (the control group) would do rote memorizing in their learning. To make sure about the two groups
homogeneity at the beginning of the experiment, an online Oxford Placement Test (OPT) was administered (50
points in total). OPT, which is composed of 50 questions, is a standardized test usually used to test EFL learners
English knowledge about grammar. The result of the test is shown in Table 1, and the data showed that the two
groups had no significant differences in their existing English knowledge (p = .962 > .05). The mean scores of both
groups were below 30 points, which indicated that these participants were at a very low English proficiency level.

Table 1. Comparison of the results on the oxford placement test

Group N Mean Minimum Maximum Std. deviation t df Sig. (2-tailed)
Group A 30 12.167 4.00 25.00 5.038 0.048 58 .962
Group B 30 12.100 4.00 25.00 5.732


As the first-year students, these participants were obliged to learn the course of college English with the textbook of
College English Book II published by Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. So the target words assigned to
learn in the experiment were chosen from the article of the first unit of this book. Ten words were chosen from the
article. The number was considered appropriate for adult e-learners in this experiment, though some scholars pointed
out that in class teaching the number of chunks of information should not exceed seven, or the short-term retention
would not be effective (Moras, 2001). The reason why more than 7 items were chosen is that a larger amount of
input might show more clearly the differences of the learning outcomes between the two groups.

For Group A students, the English words were embedded into a series of Chinese sentences (part of speech and the
Chinese translations of the target words were given in brackets next to them), which were connected by a topic.
However, the same target words were just listed along with their part of speech and Chinese translations for Group B


Both classes attended a 30-minute online class session respectively through an SNS software called YY Messenger,
which has the function of online synchronous teaching (as shown in Figure 1).

Prior to the experiment, a pre-test was administered to the two groups to examine the learners existing knowledge of
the target words. A list of 15 words from Unit One of the book was presented through YY Messenger, and all of the
subjects were required to report their Chinese translations of the words through emails in 10 minutes. Consequently,
five words were discarded because they were familiar to some of the students in the two groups.

In the teaching session of Group A, the Chinese story containing all the target words was shown on the screen. The
story is a coherent one and revolves around a certain topic (namely context) to make the ten target words related but
not separated, as many studies approve that context will make retention easier (Bowen & Marks, 1994; Penno et al.,
2002). The instructor would firstly read the story, and then all the students were given 10 minutes to read the story on

their own. In Group B, the procedure was almost the same as that of Group A, but the story was replaced with a list
of the words along with their part of speech and Chinese meanings. And after the same instructor had read the target
words, Group B participants were given 10 minutes to do a rote memorization of the words. Figure 2 shows the
different forms of the teaching materials. The English version of the story used in Group A is given in Appendix A.

Figure 1. The teaching mode of YY Messenger

Figure 2. Comparison of the teaching materials

At the end of the teaching session, an immediate post-test was assigned to both groups. The post-test was in the same
form of the pretest, but with only the 10 target words (10 points in total). The test time of the post-test was
lengthened to 15 minutes, as the researcher presumed that the subjects would spend more time thinking over what
they had just learned. Three weeks after the immediate post-test, at the beginning of another teaching session for
each class a delayed post-test was administered through YY Messenger to both groups without notification in
advance. The delayed post-test was completely the same as the immediate one. The two post-tests were used to
assess subjects short-term and long-term retention of the target words respectively. After this teaching session, an
online questionnaire survey was administered to Group A students, with the aim to obtain their perceptions of the
storytelling approach.

Data were collected from the two post-tests and the questionnaire survey, and all of them were shown and analyzed
in the following part. Table 2 is an independent t-test of the immediate post-test.

Table 2 showed that the mean score of the immediate post-test in Group A was 7.5 and that of Group B was 4.9. The
mean difference (7.5 - 4.9 = 2.6) was quite large compared with the total mark of 10. And the t-test showed that the
difference was significant (p = 0 < .05) between the two groups, which implied that the storytelling approach had
produced a much better vocabulary learning outcome than the traditional rote memorization approach. The small
standard deviation in both groups indicated that the two different approaches had exerted a relatively even impact on
subjects within each group.

Table 2. t-test of the immediate post-test

Group N Mean Std. deviation Minimum Maximum t df Sig. (2-tailed)
Group A 30 7.500 1.432 4.00 10.00 6.773 58 .000
Group B 30 4.900 1.539 3.00 10.00
Total 60 6.200 1.973 3.00 10.00

Another purpose of the study was to examine the long-term vocabulary retention by using the storytelling approach.
The data of the delayed post-test was first processed with a descriptive analysis in SPSS, and then together with the
immediate post-test was processed with an Analysis of Variance of Repeated Measures. Table 3-5 show the results.

Table 3. Descriptive analysis of the delayed post-test

Group N Mean Std. deviation Minimum Maximum
Group A 30 5.800 1.186 4.00 8.00
Group B 30 3.500 1.225 2.00 7.00
Total 60 4.650 1.665 2.00 8.00

Compared with Table 2, Table 3 showed that both of the mean scores of the two groups had dropped in the delayed
post-test. The maximum scores of the two groups also dropped. The decrease in these two sets of data indicated time
lapse had some influence on the subjects vocabulary retention.

Since both of the two repeated factors (Group and Time) in this study have only two levels, the Mauchlys test of
Sphericity is definitely met (Field, 2008). The data shown in the following tables will show the impact of time and
different teaching approaches on long-term vocabulary learning.

Table 4. Test of within-subjects effects

Source Type III sum of squares df Mean square F Sig.
time Sphericity Assumed 72.075 1 72.075 52.418 .000
time * group Sphericity Assumed 0.675 1 0.675 0.491 .486

Table 4 showed that the two factors of Group and Time did not produce an interactive effect on the learning
outcomes (p = .486 > .05), and there were significant differences in the immediate and delayed post-tests within each
group. This may imply that whatever the approach is, a certain amount of vocabulary rehearsing is necessary for
learners to obtain a better long-term retention rate.

Table 5.Test of between-subjects effects

Source Type III sum of squares df Mean square F Sig.
Intercept 3531.675 1 3531.675 1543.029 .000
group 180.075 1 180.075 78.677 .000
Error 132.750 58 2.289

Table 5 showed the between-subjects effects of the factor Group (namely the two approaches). The p value (.00 <
.05) indicated that the Group factor still produced significant differences in the vocabulary learning outcomes
between the two groups three weeks later. Together with Table 3, we now can safely assert that the storytelling
approach had a more facilitating impact on adult e-learners long-term retention of vocabulary.

In order to obtain subjects perceptions of the storytelling approach, a questionnaire survey based on a five-point
Likert-scale (with one meaning Strongly Disagree and five meaning Strongly Agree) was administered to Group A
students. Table 6 is the summary of the survey result.

Table 6. Questionnaire survey on subjects attitudes toward storytelling
Q1: I like the Q2: The topic of Q3: The story Q4: I used the story Q5: I used the Q6: I will
Survey story. the story is helps me to help me complete story to help me compose stories
questions familiar to me. remember the the immediate post- complete the by myself in
target words. test. delayed post-test. future study.
N 30 30 30 30 30 30
Mean 4.200 4.500 4.567 4.333 3.333 2.866

From Table 6, we can see that the storytelling method has been welcomed by the majority of Group A subjects, as is
indicated by the mean score of Question 1. The success of the storytelling approach partly lies in the fact that the
topic chosen was familiar to most students (indicated by the mean score of Question 2). The high rate of employing
the story in the two post-tests showed that the intended measure had produced some lasting impact on the students
vocabulary learning. But compared with that of Question 4, the mean score of Question 5 decreased, which indicated
that as time went on, some problems might have arisen and consequently hindered the application of the story in
vocabulary recall. By interviewing some Group A students, the researcher found that the reason might be that the
story became unclear to some students after the three-week time span. As to Question 6, most students reported a
negative attitude toward composing their own stories in future study. The researcher was told by some students that
they thought they didnt have the capability to make up stories as good as the one provided in the experiment.

The results of the present study confirm the findings of some previous studies that storytelling is an effective method
for vocabulary learning (Prince, 2012; Ttni & enel, 2013). There are two major differences between this study
and the previous studies. The first is that the experiment reported in this paper was set in an e-learning environment,
while the previous studies generally dealt with the traditional face-to-face teaching. The second difference is that this
study tried to teach L2 vocabulary by embedding the target words in an L1 context, while many of other studies often
employed L2 context as the measure.

It has been long preached that L2 can be best learned in L2 context, but the present study employed L1 as the
medium for L2 vocabulary acquisition. So there comes the old issue of how mother tongue influences foreign
language acquisition. In language acquisition, the phenomenon of language transfer is almost inevitable. Language
transfer or linguistic interference means language learners applying knowledge from their previously acquired
language to a new language (Odlin, 1989). Gass and Selinker (2001) categorized transfer into positive transfer and
negative transfer. Positive transfer occurs when the relevant units or structures of the mother tongue and the target
language are the same and linguistic interference can lead to correct language production. However, when language
learners transfer units and structures that are not the same in the two languages, negative transfer will occur. So in
language learning, negative transfer has to be avoided as much as possible to achieve a good learning result. On the
lexical level, negative transfer often occurs. For example, many English words have the same meaning as that of
Chinese words, but in fact many of these English words are used in different contexts. This phenomenon makes it
easy for Chinese learners to make mistakes when using these English words. By embedding L2 words in L1 stories,
the target words are clearly presented in a certain context, which is very familiar to learners, and thus learners will
get to know the usage of the words more easily.

Another reason for using L1 context was deeply related to the English proficiency level of the subjects. As shown in
the present study, most of the participants had a very low level of knowledge in English. If an L2 story context had
been provided, it was very likely that many of the subjects would have been at a loss and discouraged when faced
with a relatively long paragraph of English words no matter whether it was easy or not. As language context is often
deemed as a very important medium for vocabulary learning (Webb, 2008), the unfamiliar L2 context may impede
low-level learners learning process. To some extent, L1 context can be a much easier and more familiar tool for
low-level L2 learners. So with the English proficiency level of the learners in mind, L1 stories will be more
appropriate for these adult e-learners than L2 stories.

As mentioned in the section of literature review, stories can provide contextual clues for students, which are very
useful for information memorization. Some people may argue that the context method and keyword method can also
provide certain clues. But in most cases stories, especially dramatic stories, will elicit more interest and attention of
the learners than the normal kinds of context method or keyword method, and thus produce a better learning

The story used in this study was carefully constructed by the teacher and has exerted very good facilitating impact on
students vocabulary retention. This finding contradicts the belief of some scholars that learning vocabulary from a
specially constructed passage about a target words meaning is probably not as easy as from an authentic text (Beck
et al., 1983; Herman et al., 1987). But data from the questionnaire survey of this study showed that composing
stories was deemed as a tough task for most participants. One reason drawn from the interview with some of the
students was that most of the low-achieving students did not have the capability to compose appropriate stories. In
other words, the lack of ability or confidence will often curb low-achieving learners desire of applying the learning
method actively. Students inertness in learning is very common among Chinese low-achieving e-learners, and often
presents a headache to teachers.

The findings of the paper testify that storytelling will boost not only short-term vocabulary retention but also long-
term retention. By comparing the results of the immediate and delayed post-tests, we may find that time really
exerted a negative impact on vocabulary retention, no matter how good the learning strategy was. This finding
echoes many other studies (Gorjian et al., 2011; Hashemzadeh, 2012; Tuan, 2012). This may imply that story
rehearsal is also necessary to transform short-term retention into long-term retention. Story rehearsal may overcome
the shortcomings of rote rehearsal but retain its effectiveness of transferring information from short-term memory to
long-term memory (Dahlen & Caldwell-Harris, 2013). But on the other hand, compared with the more traditional
method of rote rehearsal, story rehearsal is presumed to be much easier and more interesting, because stories will
provide a network of associations of the target words, and hence make the process of rehearsing much simpler and
more enjoyable. A possible method for substituting story rehearsal is to compose a series of stories which centers on
a limited number of related topics. Lets take the experiment in the present study as an example. All the vocabulary
teaching of the textbook may revolve around the topic of the love affairs between Xiao Mei and Xiao Long. In this
way the stories used in later vocabulary teaching sessions may naturally remind the learners of what they have
gained in previous stories.

One more thing needs to be pointed out is that the delayed post-test was presented without early notification.
Although some scholars (Peters, 2007; Keating, 2008) claimed that being informed of a vocabulary test did not
necessarily mean a higher retention rate, it is very possible in the present study that if an early notification had been
given, the students would have performed much better in the delayed post-test, since most Chinese students usually
attach great importance to tests and thus are willing to do some kind of preparation before a test (vocabulary
rehearsing in this case).

The follow-up experiment

To see whether the storytelling approach was effective for a different set of words, a follow-up experiment was done
one month later after the first experiment to the same participants. The procedure was the same as that of the above-
mentioned research, but this time the ten words were chosen from the article of Unit 3. The data are shown in Table

Table 7. t-test of the immediate post-test for the follow-up experiment

Group N Mean Std. deviation Minimum Maximum t df Sig. (2-tailed)
Group A 30 7.567 1.165 5.00 10.00 7.776 58 .000
Group B 30 5.033 1.351 3.00 10.00
Total 60 6.300 1.788 3.00 10.00

Table 8. Descriptive analysis of the delayed post-test for the follow-up experiment
Group N Mean Std. deviation Minimum Maximum
Group A 30 6.167 1.147 4.00 8.00
Group B 30 3.600 1.192 2.00 6.00
Total 60 4.883 1.738 2.00 8.00

Table 9. Test of within-subjects effects for the follow-up experiment
Source Type III sum of squares df Mean square F Sig.
time Sphericity assumed 60.208 1 60.208 91.217 .000
time * group Sphericity assumed 0.008 1 0.008 .013 .911

Table 10. Test of between-subjects effects for the follow-up experiment

Source Type III sum of squares df Mean square F Sig.
Intercept 3752.008 1 3752.008 1631.104 .000
group 195.075 1 195.075 84.805 .000
Error 133.417 58 2.300

The same analysis of the first experiment can be applied here, and we can see that the results of the follow-up
experiment were almost the same as those of the first experiment. Group A students still outperformed Group B
students on the two post-tests. Time still produced significant differences within each group, and the two teaching
approaches also brought about significant differences between the two groups. With these two experiments, we can
now more safely assert that the storytelling approach is more effective than the traditional rote-memorization
approach in English vocabulary learning for adult e-learners.

The experiment conducted by the study demonstrates the usefulness of the storytelling method in adult e-learners
vocabulary learning. The most prominent feature of the study is that it used an L1 story context to teach L2
vocabulary, which is different from the more traditional approach of embedding L2 words in an L2 context. As the
study indicates, compared with rote memorization, storytelling can bring about better learning outcomes in both the
short-term vocabulary retention and the long-term retention, although its effects tend to diminish with time. Some
possible ways may be used to curb the trend of diminishing. One is to do story rehearsal, which is presumed to be
simpler and more enjoyable than rote memorization. Another way is to compose a series of stories which centers on
a limited number of related topics, so that a later topic will reinforce the previous learning. On the other hand, the
storytelling method seems to require more efforts from teachers. The survey results of the study showed that
although the students enjoyed the teaching method, they themselves seemed unwilling to compose stories for
themselves. This implies a big burden on teachers, if the method is to be applied over a longer period of time.

One possible limitation of the present study is that there were only a relatively limited number of target words to be
learned in the experiment. As we know, college English teaching usually involves a big amount of vocabulary
teaching. In one teaching session, normally more than 20 to 30 words will be taught to students. So can we embed so
many target words in one story? Or even if we can do so, will the story be too long for students (especially low-
achieving adult learners) to digest? The answers really need to be explored by future research.

This work was supported by the Beijing Higher Education Young Elite Teacher Project under Grant number:

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Appendix A

The English version of the Chinese story (target words are underlined)

Xiao Long and Xiao Mei were lovers. Xiao Mei always smiled at Xiao Long, and in Xiao Longs mind, the smile
was a signal of love. Xiao Meis friends didnt think their love was feasible, because Xiao Long was extremely poor
and the two families did not match. Xiao Mei lived with her parents in a flat of 120 square meters, while Xiao Longs
family consisted of three generations and lived together in a flat of only 70 square meters. When Xiao Mei told her
parents about her love with Xiao Long, her parents clearly expressed their opposition to their relationship. The
atmosphere became tense immediately. Xiao Mei did not want to give up, so she drank a bottle of deadly poison one
night. Luckily, her parents found her and sent her to the nearby hospital. With the help of the doctors, Xiao Mei
survived. Now, although Xiao Meis parents originally did not approve their daughters love to Xiao Long, they had
to give in now.