Incidental Language Acquisition Update 5

A quick review of what I am doing: I am taking a novel written in English in the public domain, and selecting words to translate to Spanish (without offering an explanation or translation). The aim is to see whether readers can incidentally learn these Spanish words just through reading them, rather than having their English meaning explicitly taught. This is called incidental learning.


So the work is practically done. Now is the part where I prepare it for eyes other than my own! I have three editions written and edited, in varying degrees of Spanish translation, and I am in the process of formatting them and inserting illustrations. This is not as easy as I thought! It took me an entire day to format one edition, and I still have a few more to go. This has taught me that being an editor means a whole lot more than just spellcheck – I have to make sure my punctuation is consistent, my spacing is consistent, and my illustrations are placed in visually pleasing locations. And what a difference it has made! My work is beginning to look more and more polished and professional.

Here’s a page of the raw text I’ve been working with all summer:



And here’s the same page, edited to be readable:



Turns out, not only the story, but its illustrations are also in the public domain! Lucky for me!

Now I have to tackle the issue of publishing this. It turns out that self publishing is remarkably easy, and available through several services online, including Amazon. As much as I would love to distribute a hard copy to every participant (I like reading physical books myself), I think this may be rather costly. Keep in mind, I already plan to pay participants for their time reading. I might just have to publish an e-book and distribute it that way. The question is: is it worth the cost to potentially deliver a better reading experience for the reader? I think more and more students use e-books because they’re simply cheaper than textbooks, or even printing out assigned reading. But could using an online edition confound my results? Or make people more likely to google the translations of the words?

Either way, I will have to figure out how to design a cover!


Once the books are published, I need to tackle my experimental design. I will have four groups: one for the 5% edition, one for the 10% edition, one for the 15% edition, and a control group. I will give them about a week to read the book (it’s 132 pages with illustrations), and then test them on their vocabulary acquisition, mainly using the Vocabulary Knowledge Scale, with some additional questions regarding grammar (as the books do introduce limited grammar rules in Spanish).

My participants will be mostly William & Mary students, as I’m hoping some will participate in my study for some sweet sweet SONA credit. If I end up only using e-books, this experiment could be expanded to the online community, but I would much prefer to meet with people in person to administer the post-test. I would like to trust people, but alas researchers should never be too trusting.

The end is in sight! And once I get to the end of this tunnel, I will emerge into the light of… working with other people. Hopefully this goes well!


  1. ajfantine says:

    Irene, this is SUCH a cool project! It’s like the perfect blend of creative writing, linguistics, foreign language learning, experimental design, etc. there’s just so much to love about this. I’ve enjoyed reading your about your progress and how you’ve approached writing the different versions of this, and I think this is a great way for people of all ages to learn another language. I’ve personally had fun reading along with the samples and trying to translate the Spanish! Having an audio component like you’ve discussed would greatly help, especially with a language like Spanish where the written word matches the pronunciation. I look forward to seeing your books in stores, since I think this could be a way of language learning that really becomes popular!