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REL0010.1177/0033688214522623RELC JournalSong and Sardegna
EFL Learners’ Incidental
Acquisition of English
Prepositions through Enhanced
Extensive Reading Instruction
RELC Journal
2014, Vol. 45(1) 67–84
© The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0033688214522623
Jayoung Song
The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Veronica Gabriela Sardegna
The University of Texas at Austin, USA
This study investigated whether enhanced extensive reading contributed to significant gains on
the incidental acquisition of English prepositions. English as a Foreign Language (EFL) secondary
school students in Korea (N=12) received enhanced extensive reading instruction for one
semester in an after-school program. Pre- and post-achievement scores on preposition use
revealed that this group exhibited gains in noticing and correcting wrong prepositions, and on
producing correct prepositions. However, pre- and post- achievement scores drawn from a
comparable group not receiving the additional instruction (N=12) exhibited small gains only
in noticing wrong prepositions in sentences. Students’ responses to retrospective interviews
provided evidence for five factors likely to affect the acquisition of English prepositions through
enhanced extensive reading: increased reading comprehension, increased vocabulary knowledge,
frequent encounters of prepositions in meaningful contexts, increased intuition for preposition
use, and opportunities to use the newly taken input in output activities. These results suggested
that enhanced extensive reading can effectively contribute to EFL secondary school students’
incidental acquisition of English prepositions.
Extensive reading, incidental learning, output activities, EFL, enhanced extensive reading
Corresponding author:
Jayoung Song, The University of Texas at Austin, 1912 Speedway Stop D5700, Austin, TX 78712-1293, USA.
Email: [email protected]
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Over the past two decades, incidental learning as a theory of language acquisition has
received much attention in foreign/second language education. It has been defined as
learning without an intention to learn, or the learning of one thing (e.g. vocabulary) when
the learner’s primary focus is to do something else (e.g. communication) (Schmidt,
1994). Because research evidence indicates that constant exposure to target input can
increase the effectiveness of incidental learning, many studies dealing with incidental
learning have centered on students’ gains from reading for pleasure—i.e. through extensive reading. Although during extensive reading the focus is on meaning and not on
language forms, empirical evidence suggests that extensive reading approaches positively contribute to language development. Yet, when these approaches are compared to
enhanced reading conditions (i.e. extensive reading plus post-reading activities), their
effectiveness is severely challenged. Studies comparing the effectiveness of ‘reading
only’ with ‘reading supplemented with activities’ (Laufer, 2003; Min, 2008; Zimmerman,
1997) have reported that the latter leads to significant gains and retention, and increases
the likelihood of incidental gains through extensive reading. Drawing on the positive
evidence associated with constant input through extensive reading and target output
though production activities, this study investigates the combined effects of extensive
reading with communicative output activities (henceforth, ‘enhanced extensive reading’)
on EFL learners’ incidental development of English prepositions.
Literature Review
Incidental learning is defined as a ‘by-product, not the target, of the main cognitive activity;
(Huckin and Coady, 1999: 182). As Shintani and Ellis (2011) defined, ‘incidental acquisition is the learning of one L2 feature without intention while attention is focused on some
other aspect of the L2 such as semantic meaning’ (p. 608). Researchers favoring incidental
learning conditions emphasize the importance of input (Krashen, 1985) or interaction in
which learners can notice specific words or linguistic forms from communicative input or
meaning negotiation during communication (Pica, 1994; Schmidt, 1994). Studies investigating the effects of input received from extensive reading interventions have shown students’ incidental gains mostly in vocabulary development (Brown et al., 2008; Cho and
Krashen, 1994; Day et al., 1992; Hayashi, 1999; Pigada and Schmitt, 2006; Rott, 1999;
Sheu, 2003); but also in reading comprehension and reading speed (Bell, 2001; Elley and
Mangubhai, 1983; Hafiz and Tudor, 1990; Lai, 1993; Nishino, 2007), writing (Elley, 1991;
Lai, 1993; Tudor and Hafiz, 1989), listening and speaking (Cho and Krashen, 1994) and
grammar (Elley and Mangubhai, 1983; Sheu, 2003; Tudor and Hafiz, 1989).
Although the general consensus is that incidental learning through extensive reading
is helpful for ESL/ELF learners’ language development, it is also apparent that the process is slow, unpredictable, and haphazard (Hulstijn et al., 1996; Paribakht and Wesche,
1999). According to Gass’ (1988) information processing framework, L2 knowledge
acquisition consists of five stages: apperceived input, comprehended input, intake, integration, and output. Apperceived input denotes input that is ‘noticed’ by the learner and
linked to some prior knowledge. Comprehended input refers to the information successfully achieved from the learner with some effort. Intake involves the process of
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Song and Sardegna
integrating linguistic information from the target language input (i.e. internalizing L2
rules or forms from the new information). Comprehended input is likely to result in
intake although some information may be lost. Finally, output enables learners to internalize new knowledge through reanalysis or ‘noticing’ by producing the target feature.
Thus, it is output that converts most input to intake.
Using Gass’ framework, Paribakht and Wesche (1997) compared two instructional
settings—Reading Only vs. Reading Plus treatment. In the Reading Only treatment, students read four selected texts and answered comprehension questions. In the Reading
Plus treatment, students performed a series of vocabulary exercises after answering the
reading comprehension questions. The results showed that the students in the Reading
Plus group improved their vocabulary knowledge significantly more than those in the
Reading Only group. Min (2008) examined the combined effect of reading plus vocabulary enhancing activities on EFL Taiwanese learners’ (N=55) vocabulary acquisition and
also found evidence for the superiority of the reading-plus-vocabulary-enhancing-activities group over another reading-only group for greater target vocabulary acquisition and
retention. Through learners’ self-reports, Zimmerman (1997) also found that reading
with vocabulary activities not only led to more incidental gains, but also resulted in students’ positive attitudes toward reading and vocabulary activities.
Some other enhancement techniques that researchers have employed together with
extensive reading include dictionaries (Cho and Krashen, 1994; Hulstijn et al., 1996;
Laufer, 2000), glosses (Hulstijn et al., 1996; Laufer, 2003), and a variety of output activities (Amiryousefi and Kassaian, 2010; Laufer, 2003; Paribakht and Wesche, 1996, 1999).
These enhancement techniques were found to contribute positively to learners’ incidental
vocabulary acquisition. For example, learners constantly consulting either an electronic
dictionary (Laufer, 2000) or a paperback dictionary (Cho and Krashen, 1994) received
higher scores on a subsequent test than those who did not. To the best of our knowledge,
no study to date has investigated the incidental acquisition of specific grammatical items
through extensive reading with communicative output activities. This study aims to fill
this gap in our knowledge base.
Also, unlike vocabulary studies, most incidental grammar acquisition studies
employed indirect and/or insensitive measurements of overall grammatical competence.
For example, some used a small number of multiple-choice grammatical questions (Elley
and Mangubhai, 1983; Sheu, 2003). Others demonstrated partial grammatical gains
through tests of syntactic structure in students’ writing (Tudor and Hafiz, 1989). Pigada
and Schmitt (2006) conducted a study that had important implications for our study
because it investigated the lexical knowledge development of a learner of French through
a test that was sensitive to the learner’s partial knowledge of spelling, meaning, and the
grammatical behavior of words. The results showed that the student improved in the
grammatical mastery of nouns (e.g. knowledge of appropriate article), but his improvement in the grammatical mastery of verbs (e.g. knowledge of appropriate preposition)
was much lower. Yet, results from one participant cannot be generalizable to a larger
population. Shintani and Ellis (2011) examined the incidental acquisition of a specific
grammatical item: English plural–s. Thirty-six Japanese EFL children (aged six to eight)
were divided into three groups: Comprehension-based instruction (CBI), productionbased instruction (PBI), and a control group. The results showed that the CBI and PBI
groups also outperformed the control group on their incidental grammar acquisition.
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The studies reviewed revealed two important aspects concerning incidental acquisition: both grammar and vocabulary incidental acquisition can take place, and incidental
acquisition can occur for both overall grammatical competence and specific grammatical features, such as English plural–s. However, more empirical studies with more participants using sensitive measurements are needed to support more strongly the view
that extensive reading facilitates the incidental acquisition of specific linguistic features. Also, considering that learners can notice the gaps in their vocabulary knowledge
when attempting to produce an output in communicative tasks, it is of importance to
investigate whether this enhanced extensive reading approach (i.e. extensive reading
with communicative output activities) could also lead to incidental grammar acquisition. The present study attempts to add insights to the literature by investigating the
effectiveness of this approach on the incidental acquisition of a specific feature: English
prepositions. We chose English prepositions for our unit of analysis because of the following reasons:
1. English prepositions constitute a substantial portion of ESL learners’ errors
(Bitchener et al., 2005).
2. Grammatical collocations (i.e. when prepositions follow a noun, adjective or
verb, or precede a noun) are hard to master as they do not follow any rules
(Ahranjani and Shadi, 2012).
3. The choice of an English preposition as an argument marker often varies depending on how it is being expressed (e.g. they loaded hay on the wagon vs. they
loaded the wagon with hay) (Levin, 1993).
4. Prepositions appear in adjuncts, which in English are (a) optional, (b) flexible in
their position in a sentence, and (c) constrained by their object as well as their
intended meaning (i.e. on the beach vs. at the beach).
5. English prepositions are specially challenging for English language learners
whose L1 has no prepositions, such as the Korean language.
Language instruction in secondary schools in Korea is characterized by strict adherence to a language textbook with few opportunities for extensive reading or oral activities (Lee, 2011). Based on the literature reviewed, we hypothesized that if Korean
learners received additional instruction based on enhanced extensive reading activities,
they would exhibit greater incidental gains in preposition use (i.e. on a challenging linguistic feature to master and one that would not be targeted for explicit instruction; yet
one that appears often in reading texts) than a group that only receives regular instruction
at school. To test our hypotheses, we conducted a study that sought to answer the following research questions:
1. Is there a significant difference in acquisition of English prepositions between a
group of students receiving regular English instruction in a Korean secondary
school and another group receiving enhanced extensive reading instruction in an
EFL after school program in Korea?
2. What factors, if any, contribute to the incidental acquisition of English
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Twenty-four students in their third year of secondary school in Korea (equivalent to 9th
grade in the US; aged 15-16) participated in the study. Twelve of them (8 males and 4
females; henceforth the regular instruction group/RI) only took the regular instruction at
school. English instruction offered at the secondary level in Korea should strictly follow
a national curriculum (Korean Ministry of Education, 1997), which limits class contents
and textbooks. The other 12 (3 males and 9 females; henceforth the enhanced extensive
reading instruction group/EERI) took enhanced extensive reading lessons after class in
addition to the regular instruction. The term ‘enhanced extensive reading instruction
(EERI)’ was used to denote an instruction that employed various output activities after
extensive reading in order to enhance students’ reading comprehension and acquisition of
prepositions. Hence, in this study EERI was distinguished from ‘extensive reading instruction,’ which only involves reading. A detailed explanation of the characteristics of EERI
is described in the next section. All participants had at least four years of formal English
education. Based on their scores on a standardized language achievement test, they had an
intermediate level of English. To ascertain that participants’ initial knowledge of preposition use was at a similar level for both groups, the groups’ scores on the pre-test were
tested for significant differences after checking for violations of normality in the data set
and confirming the homogeneity of variance between the groups (Levene’s test: F=.763;
p>0.5). The score average for EERI was 53.67 (SD=5.14) and for RI was 52.83 (SD=3.86).
Through an independent samples t-test, it was determined that there were no significant
differences between these two groups’ preposition use at Week One (t (22)=.449, p>.05).
Characteristics of the Groups
RI met for 45 minutes three times a week for one semester. The course textbook consisted of six chapters divided into four sections: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
Reading instruction focused on answering reading comprehension questions and translating unknown English words from six short articles that appeared in the textbook.
There was no instructional focus on prepositions.
EERI met twice a week for one hour and a half for one semester. Students were
allowed to read their own English books or books from the class library, which contained
approximately 150 English graded readers and English novels for young readers. There
was no instructional focus on prepositions. The first half of the program (weeks 1-8) was
devoted to group extensive reading. The purpose of the group extensive reading was to
help beginning readers get familiar with extensive reading and build interest in reading
by sharing books with their peers. Participants were divided into three groups of four
depending on the genres of the books they chose to read (e.g. mystery group, adventure
group). The 90-min class was divided into a one-hour sustained silent reading (SSR)
activity related to the group topic followed by 30-minute moderated group discussions in
which a moderator led the discussions by asking questions related to each group’s
selected books and encouraging members to participate. These discussions had a double
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purpose: to check on students’ reading comprehension, and to offer students opportunities to internalize input from the readings. The second half of the program (weeks 9-15)
was devoted to individual extensive reading, which consisted of a one-hour SSR activity
on any topic followed by a 30-minute activity. Students could choose to read as many
books as they wanted on any topic, but they were encouraged to read one graded reader
per week as suggested by Day and Bamford (2002). If students chose to read authentic
English novels, the amount of authentic books per week (20-30 pages) were considered
as corresponding to the amount of one graded reader. Reading one book per week allows
learners to repeat and reinforce new input (Nation and Wang, 1999). The last 30 minutes
were devoted to output post-reading activities, such as pair book sharing, oral book
reports, and book poster presentations as suggested in Bamford and Day (2004). In addition, every week students completed a reading log and a short book report on the chapters
they had read during the week. A detailed outline of the enhanced extensive reading
program is in Appendix 1.
Data Sources and Analysis
Data were drawn from a background questionnaire, achievement scores from pre- and
post-preposition tests, and an interview. Both the EERI and RI groups completed the
background questionnaire, which was designed to gather general information about the
participants (e.g. gender, age, and length of English study). Both groups also completed
pre- and post-preposition tests at the beginning and end of the semester. The preposition
tests consisting of three sections served as measures of acquisition of English prepositions, the dependent variable of the study. These tests were designed to tap into gradual
improvement: from being just aware of an incorrect preposition to being able to correct
it appropriately. Section 1 asked students to ‘notice’ incorrect prepositions in 10 sentences, and to choose ‘C’ if they thought the underlined preposition was correct, ‘I’ if
they thought it was incorrect, and ‘I don’t know’ if they could not tell whether it was
correct or incorrect. The third choice was included to prevent students from guessing.
Section 2 measured whether students ‘knew’ the right propositions for the blanks in 30
given sentences. They were strictly asked not to write a preposition if they were not sure
about the answer. Section 3 measured whether students could ‘notice’ and ‘produce’ the
right prepositions in a reading passage. Students were asked to correct 11 incorrect prepositions out of 23. This section was more challenging than the other two because the
prepositions were not identified. The sentences in the testing materials resembled some
of the readings in the extensive reading program (i.e. same sentence structures with different pronouns or proper nouns). The pre- and post-tests were identical in format so that
they could be used to reveal acquisition of English prepositions over time. Proper nouns
as well as the order of the questions were changed in order to prevent students from
remembering the test items and, therefore, avoid a test-retest effect. Additionally, there
was a significant time difference (six months) between the two tests, thus making it hard
for the students to remember any items from the pre-test. Moreover, students were not
aware that there would be a post-test. Tallies for each type of preposition knowledge
ranged from 0–2, so students earned 0 points if they did not notice an incorrect preposition, 1 point if they noticed the error but did not provide the correct form, and 2 points if
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Table 1. Descriptive Statistics and Wilcoxon Test of Difference Between Pre- and Post-test
Scores in the RI and EERI Group.
RI (n=12)
EERI (n=12)
Z (Post-pre)
Mean (SD)
Mean (SD)
52.83 (3.86)
53.67 (1.31)
53.67 (4.10)
67.59 (1.59)
Note: The total possible score was 92.
aAccuracy percent.
*p < .05.
they both noticed and corrected the error. After coding, all scores were entered into SPSS
and a range of descriptive and inferential statistics were computed.
The EERI group also completed a 30-minute retrospective interview after their postpreposition test. The interview was designed to measure different levels of knowledge
ranging from recognizing the meaning of prepositions (i.e. being able to explain the
meaning of a preposition they got right in the post-test but not in the pre-test) to the ability to produce a sentence that incorporated the preposition appropriately. The purpose of
this design was to examine if the participants (a) knew the meaning of a particular preposition and could use it appropriately in context, (b) simply guessed its meaning, or (c)
chose the preposition at random. The interview was conducted in Korean so that participants could express their ideas more clearly.
A one-way repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with time (pre-test and
post-test) as a within-subjects factor and group (RI and EERI) as a between-subjects factor indicated that the amount of preposition gains was statistically significant as a function of group (F(1,22)=13.24, p<.001, partial-eta squared=.376) and as a function of time
(F(1,22)=431.31, p<.001, partial-eta squared=.951). It should be noted that there was a
significant interaction between time and group (F(1,22)=339.35, p<.001, partial-eta
squared=.939), which indicated that the two groups performed differently over time,
with the increase being stronger in the EERI group.
Due to the small sample size, Wilcoxon Signed Ranks tests were computed to examine significant differences between pre- and post-tests. As Table 1 shows, RI exhibited a
1 percentage point increase in English preposition use on the post-test. This increase was
statistically significant (Z=2.33, p<.05), which suggested that the students could incidentally learn English prepositions through the regular instruction received at school. In
contrast, EERI exhibited an increase of 15 percentage points in preposition use on the
post-test. This difference was also statistically significant (Z=3.08, p<.05).
To identify gains in different levels of preposition knowledge, we examined students’
changes in each section of the preposition test. Section 1 asked if a learner had familiarity
with the target preposition and noticed the incorrect preposition in a sentence. Section 2
asked if a learner noticed the incorrect preposition and knew the right preposition for an
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Table 2. Descriptive Statistics and Wilcoxon Test of Difference Between Pre- and Post-test
Scores on Tech Type of Preposition Knowledge in the RI and EERI Group.
Group Preposition
knowledge type
Notice +Know
Z (Post-pre-)
Mean (SD)
Mean (SD)
8.00 (0.60)
38.67 (2.46)
6.17 (1.47)
8.25 (0.75)
38.67 (3.65)
6.75 (1.76)
8.92 (0.66)
38.58 (2.57)
6.17 (1.64)
9.33 (0.49)
46.67 (4.61)
11.59 (2.50)
Note: The total possible score for each section was 10, 60, and 22, respectively.
aAccuracy percent.
*p < .05.
incorrect one in a sentence. Section 3 asked if a learner not only noticed but also produced a correct preposition in a passage. In order to determine the strength of the intervention on each section of the preposition test, we calculated effect sizes using the
formula for effect sizes for Wilcoxon Signed Ranks tests (Corder and Foreman, 2009).
Given that Cohen’s effect size guidelines are general and applicable to many effect sizes,
we followed Cohen’s (1988) conventions for effect size. An effect size of .10 is small, .30
is medium, and .50 is large.
As Table 2 indicates, RI showed statistically significant improvement (9 percentage
points) on the first section of the test (Z=2.81, p<.05) with a large effect size (r=.81),
which suggested that the students could notice more incorrect prepositions in the posttest. However, RI scores decreased (-0.1 percentage point) on the second section (Z=1.00,
p>.05, r=.29) and exhibited no change (0 percentage point) on the third section (Z=.000,
p=1, r=0). These results indicated that, although RI could incidentally acquire English
prepositions through traditional instruction, the level of improvement was limited to
noticing preposition use. Contrary to RI, EERI showed statistically significant increase
with large effect sizes in all three sections (section 1: Z=2.91, p<.05, r=.84; section 2:
Z=3.10, p<.05, r=.89; Section 3: Z=3.09, p<.05, r=.89). The increase in Section 1 was
slightly above 11 percentage points, in Section 2 was 13 percentage points, and in Section
3 was 22 percentage points.
Responses to the retrospective interviews provided evidence for five factors contributing to the acquisition of English prepositions in the EERI group: increased reading
comprehension, increased vocabulary knowledge, frequent encounters of prepositions in
meaningful contexts, increased intuition for preposition use, and opportunities to use the
newly taken input into output activities.
First, students (67%) repeatedly commented that they could not answer the right preposition in the pre-test because they did not know or could not understand some of the
words in the sentence. In contrast, at the end of the semester, they felt they could identify
more correct prepositions because it was easier for them to understand the sentences. For
example, one student said: ‘I didn’t know if this preposition was correct or incorrect
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because I didn’t understand the meaning of the sentence. But I know what it [the sentence] means now, so I can tell if this [preposition] is correct or not.’ Students’ selfreports revealed that increased reading comprehension skills helped students figure out
the correct prepositions in the post-test.
Second, some students (58%) attributed higher scores on the post-test to increased
vocabulary knowledge. For example, one student commented regarding a sentence in the
pre-test: ‘I didn’t know this word, so I didn’t know what to write next to this word.’
Comments such as this suggest that students’ increased vocabulary knowledge helped
them understand the sentence better, which then allowed them to identify the right preposition for that particular sentence.
Third, most students (91%) improved in the use of frequently encountered prepositions, such as location prepositions (on the floor, in front of school). Since location prepositions appear often in readings, students had many chances to learn them. Students
commented, ‘I got it right here because “in” is always used in front of location phrases’
or ‘I know it is “in” because I saw it a lot.’ In contrast, students showed less uptake for
items that did not frequently appear in the texts, such as particular grammatical collocations (e.g. in terror) or phrasal verbs (e.g. clean up).
Fourth, students’ responses (91%) revealed that the students had increased intuition for
preposition use. When they were asked why they changed a preposition in the post-test,
they could not account for the changes but simply replied, ‘I don’t know why I wrote “for”
in the “for the rest of my life” for sure. Maybe I saw this phrase in the text. But I wrote
down “for” because it just sounds right.’ Another student replied ‘I don’t know why I put
“in” for the sentence “he froze in terror.” It just sounds good.’ Even though they could
not explain the specific grammar rules, or identify the phrases as collocations, they seemed
to have gradually acquired the use of that language feature through natural exposure.
Finally, given that a large amount of input and production activities were provided in
the extensive reading program, it is plausible that students had abundant opportunities to
encounter vocabulary items with prepositions (i.e. collocations) frequently in contexts. It
is also possible that engaging in group discussions prior to having to present oral book
reports individually could have increased their ability and confidence to use more complex sentences in their oral presentations. Opportunities for extensive reading and forced
output with increasing levels of linguistic difficulty could have facilitated the acquisition
of certain vocabulary words and, ultimately, the acquisition of the prepositions that
should accompany the new words.
Although it is difficult to produce a true experimental setting in a classroom (Grabe,
2004), the setting for this study and the controls enforced increase the reliability of its
findings. The study took place in a foreign language classroom, where learners’ involvement with the target language was limited to the language class. Therefore, any gains in
incidental preposition knowledge and use were likely to result from either the regular
instruction or the enhanced extensive reading instruction, or both.
The results of the study suggest that the students attending regular instruction could
increase their ability to notice wrong prepositions in a sentence by almost a 1 percentage
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point. However, changes in their ability to both notice and correct wrong prepositions in
a sentence or a passage did not change significantly. In contrast, the group of students
receiving additional enhanced extensive reading improved their ability to notice wrong
prepositions in a sentence by 11 percentage points, to correct and notice prepositions in
a sentence by 13 percentage points, and to notice and correct wrong prepositions in a
passage by 22 percentage points. It could be argued that because the after-school
enhanced extensive reading instruction was additional to the regular school instruction,
it is not surprising that EERI outperformed RI. Yet, the purpose of this study was to see
to what extent the two instructional conditions contributed to incidental gains in preposition use. RI’s improvement in preposition knowledge was limited to noticing incorrect
prepositions in a sentence. In contrast, EERI showed improvements in not only noticing
the incorrect prepositions but also producing appropriate prepositions in a passage.
These results provide evidence suggesting the positive effects of enhanced extensive
reading on the incidental acquisition of preposition knowledge. This finding is consistent
with studies that investigated the benefits of extensive reading for incidental acquisition
of vocabulary (Cho and Krashen, 1994; Nishino, 2007; Pigada and Schmitt, 2006) or
grammatical competence (Elley and Mangubhai, 1983; Sheu, 2003; Tudor and Hafiz,
1989). Yet, to our knowledge, our study is the first that has shown incidental acquisition
with a specific focus (English prepositions) using a direct and sensitive measurement for
acquisition. Given that English prepositions are difficult to master (Bitchener et al.,
2005), EERI’s 15 percentage points increase on the post-test seems remarkable. These
results do not indicate that the prepositions were fully mastered, though. However, if we
take the stance that language learning is incremental in nature and any movement towards
mastery is valuable, the results are promising.
These findings also lend support to Min’s (2008) and Rott’s (1999) claim that reading
plus activities leads to more incidental gains in both receptive and productive knowledge. It is possible that the enhanced extensive reading activities contributed to EERI’s
improvement in higher levels of preposition knowledge. Prepositions are function words
with little impact on meaning and may often be ignored in input processing. The output
activities after reading extensively seem to have enabled the learners to have more
opportunities to undergo a deeper mental processing of prepositions, which is in line
with Gass (1988) and Swain’s (2005) claims regarding the benefits of engaging in ouput
activities. Thus, although RI showed a small increase in noticing incorrect prepositions,
they failed to demonstrate their ability to produce the prepositions in the second and third
sections of the post-test. In contrast, it is possible that EERI could internalize some of the
prepositions that they encountered through reading plus activities, which might have
helped them not only notice unknown prepositions, but also correct them and produce
them in appropriate contexts.
The interview data suggested five factors that could have affected the acquisition:
increased reading comprehension, increased vocabulary knowledge, frequent encounters
of prepositions in meaningful contexts, increased intuition for preposition use, and
opportunities to use the newly taken input in output activities. Although students’ reading
comprehension and vocabulary growth was not measured through achievement tests,
these interviews provided valuable information on students’ actual knowledge, as the
interviewer asked them to explain verbally the meaning of the grammar collocations and
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vocabulary words accompanying the prepositions in the test. Since the choice of prepositions is decided by the intended meaning of the sentence and words that precede or follow them (e.g. grammatical collocations), it is not surprising that increased reading
comprehension and vocabulary knowledge ultimately translated into increased grammatical knowledge of prepositions.
It is also possible that frequent encounters with prepositions in various contexts positively affected students’ acquisition of prepositions. Language learning is not a one-time
affair. Therefore, it is unrealistic to believe that a learner would master a preposition or a
grammatical collocation upon a first encounter with it. It takes frequent encounters for an
item to be noticed and internalized gradually (Rott, 1999). The students had enough
opportunities to meet prepositions in different contexts over the 15-week extensive reading program. Since these frequent encounters were within their linguistic competence
(the program used leveled readers), this input was accessible for them to transform it to
intake. This finding is consistent with studies that have shown vocabulary gains through
frequency of exposure (Brown et al., 2008; Rott, 1999). Just as frequent encounters of
vocabulary resulted in vocabulary acquisition, frequent encounters with prepositions
might have contributed to the acquisition of prepositions.
Enough input was a crucial factor for acquisition; however, it seemed that acquisition
was facilitated by the incorporation of output activities implemented in the 30 minutes
following the SSR. These activities naturally required students to use prepositions in
context. For example, students were asked to describe chapter scenes, which naturally
required them to make sentences such as this: ‘This scene takes place in Juliet’s bedroom. She is having a fight with her brother because he did not take care of her dog.’
Hence, this study supported other studies (Laufer, 2003; Min, 2008; Paribakht and
Wesche, 1996, 1997; Zimmerman, 1997) that showed superiority of reading plus output
activities on incidental acquisition.
Finally, the EERI group reported that at the beginning of the program they could not
properly grasp the meaning of the sentences and, as a result, they could neither tell if the
preposition used in the sentence was appropriate nor change it to a correct form. However,
by the end of the program, they felt that they could understand the meaning of the sentences better, which might explain why they could correct more wrong prepositions. Yet,
most were still unable to explain their correct answers in the post-test. Language acquisition theory might explain this inability. According to the input hypothesis (Krashen,
1982), acquisition refers to the unconscious development of a language through exposure. It later becomes implicit linguistic knowledge, which is the internalized knowledge
that the learner can use to produce language automatically without thinking about grammatical rules (Bialystok, 1978). The students seemed to have acquired the use of prepositions through natural and constant exposure from reading a large amount of books and
participating in output activities. That is, their knowledge of prepositions became
implicit, making it hard for them to clearly explain the grammar rules that govern the
specific use of prepositions.
Language instructors considering implementing extensive reading activities in their
curriculum should take into account several aspects of extensive reading that seem to have
contributed to the effectiveness of the extensive reading program under study. First and
foremost, following Day and Bamford (1998), the students were provided with a variety
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RELC Journal 45(1)
of materials on a wide range of topics and were allowed to select reading materials according to their own interests. Second, the students were encouraged to read materials that
were well within their reading comfort zones (Bamford and Day, 1997). Third, because
different publishing companies use different standards when categorizing their books’
reading levels (for example, Penguin level 2 is not equivalent to Oxford level 2) and some
authentic materials can be more difficult to read than others, the instructor reorganized the
class library in order to help students find the right books for them. Fourth, group extensive reading and discussion activities were implemented during the first weeks of the
program in order to familiarize students with extensive reading activities and create a
cooperative learning environment through peer scaffolding. Finally, students produced
output through various activities, such as group discussions, oral book reports, and individual book presentations. Although replication studies including these aspects of the
extensive reading program are needed to corroborate the findings, it can be gleaned from
the results that it is very likely that the students built their linguistic knowledge of syntactic structures, words, and preposition use as well as their confidence in reading partly
because of the characteristics of the program—i.e. because (a) they read books that they
could understand and that they liked; (b) they had opportunities to receive feedback and
support from peers; (c) they shared their views of what they read with peers; and (d) their
active and collaborative engagement in the reading process made reading more fun.
Due to its small sample size and focus on English prepositions, the study results may not
be generalizable to larger ESL or EFL populations, or the incidental acquisition of other
linguistic forms in English. Also, without delayed post-tests, it is not possible to measure
long-time retention. Another limitation is that students’ retrospective self-reports may not
be accurate. It is possible, for example, that students think they acquired a certain preposition because they think they frequently encountered it in texts when they might have simply acquired the preposition because it was easy to learn. Future research could avoid these
limitations by employing random group assignments, additional measurements for reading
comprehension and vocabulary knowledge development, delayed post-tests, and frequency
measurements for prepositions and their acquisition rate. A possible avenue of future
research is to compare the results by gender or to a group receiving explicit instruction on
English prepositions. Scholars should also investigate the effect of extensive reading on
linguistic development in a broader sense and for other linguistic features.
The beneficial effects of extensive reading have been widely investigated. However, this
study extends our knowledge of these effects by providing evidence suggesting that
enhanced extensive reading instruction might lead to greater gains on incidental acquisition of English prepositions. Benefits such as increased reading comprehension and
vocabulary, frequent encounters with prepositions in meaningful contexts, and opportunities for output (i.e. opportunities to use the newly taken input and transform it into
intake) were found to contribute positively to the acquisition of prepositions. Although it
might be possible that explicit grammar instruction might swiftly facilitate acquisition of
new linguistic knowledge by drawing direct attention to the target forms, it is not possible to teach all prepositions and exceptions to their use in an already crowded language
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Song and Sardegna
class. Enhanced extensive reading could be an option for language practitioners. It is
‘pedagogically efficient’ (Huckin and Coady, 1999: 182) because it helps to develop
reading fluency and general reading skills as well as to acquire linguistic forms incidentally. It also provides learners with opportunities to encounter grammatical items, such as
English prepositions, in a contextualized manner. Extensive reading could be incorporated not at the expense of current direct reading and grammar instruction, but in conjunction with or as supplementary to other approaches.
We would like to thank Hye Jin Jung for her insightful comments and contribution in designing the
extensive reading program for the study and Eunseok Ro for his help with the pilot design.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or
not-for-profit sectors.
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Appendix 1. The Enhanced Extensive Reading Program.
Week 1
(Book 1)
Week 2
(Book 1)
Week 3
(Book 2)
Week 4
(Book 2)
Week 5
(Book 3)
Week 6
(Book 3)
Week 7
(Book 4)
Each group chose
books for the
group to read.
1st class
2nd class
-Selection of books
-Selection of reading
-Moderated group discussion
-Vocabulary log
-Moderated group discussion
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Moderated group discussion
-Vocabulary log
-Moderated group discussion
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Vocabulary log
-Moderated group
-Moderated group
-Moderated group
-Playwriting for group
-Moderated group
-Group book presentation
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Presenting graphic organizer
of the book (Story map)
-Vocabulary log
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RELC Journal 45(1)
Appendix 1. (Continued)
Week 8
(Book 4)
Week 9
(Book 5)
Each learner
chose his/her
own book to
1st class
2nd class
-Group book sharing
-Presenting graphic organizer
of the book(Story map)
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Drawing a cartoon
-A Different Ending
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Predicting Activities
-Interview a character
Week 10
(Book 6)
-One person’s view of
Week 11
(Book 7)
-What does the
future hold?
-Predicting content
from title
Week 12
(Book 8)
Week 13
(Book 9)
-My book from A-Z
Week 14
(Book 10)
-Favorite quotation
Week 15
(Book 10)
-Portfolio making
-Pair book-sharing
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Book poster presentation
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Book poster presentation
-Vocabulary log
-Reading log
-Portfolio exhibition
-The Best Reader evaluation
Appendix 2
Language Assessment
If the underlined preposition is correct, write C. If the underlined preposition is
incorrect, write I.
1. Myron got out of his chair and sat in the floor.
2. It was so crowded by kids rushing to recess that he couldn’t stop if he wanted.
3. The sound of the footsteps continued for a second, then stopped.
4. It was dark to Myron to see who was following him, but he realized that meant
that the person couldn’t see him, either.
5. He bent down, then untied and took off his right sneaker.
6. ‘You’ll have to go inside when it rains,’ said the other man on a mustache.
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Song and Sardegna
7. Myron looked at the three men.
8. The first time someone got on trouble, he had to write his name on the blackboard
under the word DISCIPLINE.
9. She hopped off the bike on front of Barton School and charged up the stairs.
10. She hated prune juice more than anything by the world.
Fill in the blanks with a suitable preposition
1. There were pencils and pieces _______ paper everywhere.
2. It wasn’t his job to pick ______ the garbage.
3. He signed. Then began cleaning it _________.
4. He loved all the children _______ Barton School.
5. A short man with big, bushy hair stepped out _______ the truck.
6. Barton School was thirty stories high, with only one room ____ each story.
7. He stepped easily ______ the eighteenth story ______ the twentieth.
8. ______ last he struggled up the final step to the thirtieth story.
9. He knocked _______ Mrs. Jewls door _______ his head.
10. So Louis held the box as Mrs. Jewls stood on a chair next him and tore open the
11. ‘Get that piece ______ junk out of here,’ said Maurecia.
12. Louis set the computer ______ the counter behind Sharie’s desk.
13. Then, he collapsed ________ the floor.
14. I drop all the cucumbers ______ brine and take them to the kitchen.
15. ‘Could you write the question ______ the board, please?’ asked Rondi.
16. _________ a mocking voice she said, ‘Could you answer the question, please?’
17. She picked ______ the vat ______ brine from her desk.
18. I’m going to dump this______ your head.
19. Leslie quickly tried to count _____ her fingers but she didn’t have enough.
20. What is the capital _______ England?
21. Paul froze ________ terror.
22. They sat ______ on the grass to eat their lunches, but then Maurecia remembered
she needed chocolate milk.
23. Joy’s eyes got bigger head when she looked the paper bag.
24. It was stuffed _______ dollar bills.
25. You’ll get _______ trouble.
26. You’ll go to jail ______ the rest of your life.
27. She believed ______dreams.
28. Everyone was still waiting _________ the wonderful news.
29. I’d rather dance ______ a dead rat!
30. She was tired ______getting hurt.
Find 10 wrong prepositions and correct them
Allison was still by the nineteenth story. The desks were arranged on clusters of four.
Allison sat at a cluster in a girl named Virginia, a boy named Nick, and a boy named Ray.
But Virginia looked old enough for be her mother. And Nick looked like he should be on
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RELC Journal 45(1)
high school. Ray was a couple of years younger than Allison. ‘Miss Zarves is a wonderful teacher,’ said Virginia on a singsong voice. ‘She’s the nicest teacher I ever had.’
‘She’s the only teacher you ever had,’ said Nick. ‘So? She’s still nice,’ said Virginia. ‘I’ve
always gotten all A’s.’ ‘Aren’t you a little old for be going at school?’ Allison asked her.
‘You’re never old to learn,’ said Virginia. ‘No one ever leaves Miss Zarves’s class,’ said
Nick. ‘How long have you been here, Virginia?’ Virginia thought a moment. ‘Thirty-two
wonderful years.’ ‘I’ve been here nine years,’ said Nick. ‘But she always gives us good
grades,’ said Virginia. ‘That’s true,’ Nick agreed. ‘I’ve gotten all A’s since I’ve been here
too.’ ‘Me too,’ said Ray. ‘And sometimes I answer all the problems wrong by purpose!’
‘Where were you before you came here?’ Allison asked him. ‘I went to, um, I was…’ Ray
shook his head. ‘That’s funny, I don’t remember.’ ‘I don’t remember where I came,
either,’ said Virginia. ‘Well, I do!’ said Allison. ‘I was in…’ But suddenly she couldn’t
remember either. Then it came on her. ‘Mrs. Jewls’s class! And Rondi was by the class,
and Jason, and Dana, and Todd…’ She named every member of the class, including all
three Erics. She didn’t want to forget her hometown. If I forget where I was from, I might
never get back, she thought.
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