Investigating the Selection of Example Sentences for Unknown Target Words in ICALL Reading Texts for L2 German
Segler, Thomas M.
This thesis considers possible criteria for the selection of example sentences for difficult or unknown words in reading texts for students of German as a Second Language (GSL). The examples are intended to be provided within the context of an Intelligent Computer-Aided Language Learning (ICALL) Vocabulary Learning System, where students can choose among several explanation options for difficult words. Some of these options (e.g. glosses) have received a good deal of attention in the ICALL/Second Language (L2) Acquisition literature; in contrast, literature on examples has been the near exclusive province of lexicographers. The selection of examples is explored from an educational, L2 teaching point of view: the thesis is intended as a first exploration of the question of what makes an example helpful to the L2 student from the perspective of L2 teachers. An important motivation for this work is that selecting examples from a dictionary or randomly from a corpus has several drawbacks: first, the number of available dictionary examples is limited; second, the examples fail to take into account the context in which the word was encountered; and third, the rationale and precise principles behind the selection of dictionary examples is usually less than clear. Central to this thesis is the hypothesis that a random selection of example sentences from a suitable corpus can be improved by a guided selection process that takes into account characteristics of helpful examples. This is investigated by an empirical study conducted with teachers of L2 German. The teacher data show that four dimensions are significant criteria amenable to analysis: (a) reduced syntactic complexity, (b) sentence similarity, provision of (c) significant co-occurrences and (d) semantically related words. Models based on these dimensions are developed using logistic regression analysis, and evaluated through two further empirical studies with teachers and students of L2 German. The results of the teacher evaluation are encouraging: for the teacher evaluation, they indicate that, for one of the models, the top-ranked selections perform on the same level as dictionary examples. In addition, the model provides a ranking of potential examples that roughly corresponds to that of experienced teachers of L2 German. The student evaluation confirms and notably improves on the teacher evaluation in that the best-performing model of the teacher evaluation significantly outperforms both random corpus selections and dictionary examples (when a penalty for missing entries is included).