Learning Words from Context (1985) is a research paper that has answered many questions I've been curious about for a long time

Learning Words from Context

And many results are relevant to the Wanikani community. For example:

  • Roughly how much vocabulary growth you can anticipate from reading
  • Vocabulary growth from reading vs listening
  • A brief comparison of learning from context vs direct vocabulary instruction
  • Etc

Errr, you should not post a sci-hub link. Piracy is against forum rules.


Sorry didn’t realize it was a piracy site. Removed the original link. Anyone who wants to read the paper knows the title.


By the way, I found this version, which is legitimately free to access. Is that the same paper? If so, you can just use that link instead :slight_smile:

Edit: In this version, there are stuff like

Insert Table 1 about here.

which is standard for pre-formatted drafts. Many publishing companies (all?) allow the self hosting of research papers as long as the researcher uses the version before formatting. The tables and figures can be found at the very end of the paper.


Added your version to the original post. I suspect the link I posted is the version published in some popular journal (1985) and yours is an earlier draft from 1984. The bulk of the content is the same, however.


I’d like to point out that the research paper in question discusses vocabulary acquisition for native speakers of a language, not for second language learners. The acquisition of a second language is fundamentally different from the acquisition of your first language, which makes a lot of the conclusions hard (and at times impossible) to transfer, especially with regards to quantifications of vocabulary growth.

Apart from that, it’s also important to realize that a language using a purely alphabetical writing system will yield largely different results for vocabulary acquisition through reading (both for L1 and L2 speakers) than Japanese given that it combines logographic and syllabic writing systems.


At least some of this paper is relevant to learning a second language though.

I’m still in the introduction, but

Furthermore, several studies have shown learning of word
meanings from written context to be a relatively ineffective
process (e.g., Gibbons, 1940; Sachs, 1943), especially when
compared with intensive direct instruction (Jenkins, Pany &
Schreck, 1978; Johnson, Toms-Bronowski & Pittelman, in press;
Margosein, Pascarella & Pflaum, 1982).

makes a lot of sense if I compare words I’ve learned through verbal instruction/explanation first. For example, 飲み放題 (all you can drink) was thoroughly explained to me after I moved to Japan due to standards of work socialization. When I first saw the word put together on WaniKani, I instantly knew what it was. I’ve had near 100% accuracy (aside from misreading it as 食べ放題). I’ve never purely learned a word (ie from kanji to vocab) on WaniKani and been able to have that level accuracy. I don’t even learn well audibly though and typically learn facts far better through text. I’ve had the same experience for a couple of other words verbally taught to me in situational context (not directly in the context of a sentence typically).

I’m still working through the rest of the research paper, but taking a break.

Perhaps this paper would be more helpful?


That one gives a good overview I would say! Restrepo Ramos also points out some important aspects of reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition that a lot of prominent Japanese textbooks (まるごと excluded), particularly those aimed at less proficient learners, lack to varying degrees:

[…] the importance of selecting authentic texts with highly informative contextual cues manageable for the level of proficiency of learners, and the importance of selecting tasks that allow learners to focus attention at the word level (syntactical level) and global text comprehension.

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I like “Incidental vocabulary acquisition in a second language: A review” (very similar name) even better.

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