Read and Repeat: Can repetition and text enhancement improve language learning?

Image of students studying on a computer
chart of reading comprehension for Spanish learning
Chart showing impact of keyword repetition

Does repeating a word in a text improve the comprehension and spelling of college students studying Spanish? How many repetitions is enough? How many is more than enough? Does making some words bold, italicized or underlined help with definitions and spelling?

Those are some of the questions UC Davis Spanish professor Claudia Sanchez-Gutiérrez, graduate student Pablo Robles-García, and Mercedes Pérez-Serrano, a language professor in Spain, asked in a recent study. The results of the study could be used to create more effective reading materials for vocabulary learning. 

"More than 500 students enroll in the first-year Spanish program every quarter at UC Davis, and similar enrollment can be found in colleges and universities across the United States,” Sanchez-Gutiérrez said. “Our experience is that students consistently complain about how difficult it is to learn vocabulary because little time is devoted to teaching it in a systematic way in the classroom.”

The researchers had students read a text in which keywords were repeated once, five or 10 times, while another group of students read the same text but with the keywords “enhanced” (i.e., bold-typed). The goal was to see if repetition and/or enhancement would help students in learning the keywords.

Students were tested three times on both spelling and meaning of the keywords before, immediately after and two weeks after the reading activity. The researchers found that five or 10 encounters with a word improved spelling and meaning recognition, but that five may be enough. Enhanced words only led to learning gains in spelling immediately after the test.

This is the first study of its kind on Spanish, the researchers said.

The study, “The effects of word frequency and typographical enhancement on incidental vocabulary learning in reading,” was published in the Journal of Spanish Language Teaching.