When studying a second language, many students will eventually reach a certain stage where they start to wonder “What do I do next?” – and for most people there is no obvious answer.
Beginner students usually follow a standard progression:
- learn the basic grammar of the language
- learn basic vocabulary such as pronouns, numbers, colors and common verbs
- practice speaking the language
- practice listening to the language
Intermediate students are presented with a different problem. To progress to an advanced level, they need to focus less on grammar, and start focusing more on learning a large amount of vocabulary.
The Problem With Flashcards
As any language student knows, learning vocabulary can be frustrating and time consuming.
Most people resort to using flashcards, which have proven to be an effective method for remembering words. However, after spending weeks or even months working through a seemingly endless pile of flashcards, even the most dedicated students are left asking, “Isn’t there a better way?”
Many scholars have suggested that the best way to improve your language skills and retain large amounts of vocabulary is to study words in context. Instead of just studying single words over and over, students study words presented in sentences or text passages. This allows them to see how words are used in real life examples, while helping improve their cognitive ability to deduce the meaning of a word by examining the words around it.
One of the most popular ways of studying language in context is using cloze deletion tests. Many students have found success using web based applications such as Clozemaster, which uses cloze deletion tests to make learning a large amount of vocabulary both fast and enjoyable.
What Is A Cloze Deletion Test?
Even if you’ve never actually heard the term “cloze deletion”, there’s a very good chance that you’re familiar with this kind of test.
Cloze deletion tests (also known simply as “cloze tests”) are a common way of testing both first and second language reading comprehension in children, and are currently used in classrooms around the world.
A cloze test is an exercise, test or assessment in which the participant is given a sentence or passage with certain words removed. The participant is required to replace the missing words to create a sentence that is both grammatically and contextually correct.
Here’s a simple example:
I ________ to Disneyland yesterday and saw Mickey Mouse.
A participant taking this test would analyze the sentence structure and discover that the missing word should be a past tense verb that can precede the preposition “to”. They would then analyze the context of the sentence and discover that it should be a word related to visiting a place. In this case, the most appropriate answer is went.
Different Kinds Of Cloze Tests
There are two main ways to create a cloze test.
The first way is to remove the nth word from a text and replace it with a blank space. This method is known as systematic deletion.
In this example, every 5th word has been removed:
Mary and John met _____ a restaurant before going _____ the movies. Mary ordered _____ ham sandwich, while John _____ a bowl of soup. _____ both had ice cream _____ dessert.
This method is good for assessing overall grammar and comprehension skills. Participants are required to work out what grammatical function each missing word performs, then find a word that is contextually appropriate. In this example, the most appropriate answers are at, to, a, ordered, They and for.
The second way is to remove one or more specific words from the text and replace them with blank spaces. This method is known as rational deletion.
This type of cloze test can be used to target specific areas of linguistic knowledge. In this example, two specific words have been removed:
I went shopping and bought a _____ of bread and a _____ of baked beans.
This sentence is good example of assessing both language comprehension and cultural knowledge, as the participant is required to know the collective nouns for both bread and baked beans. Although there are a number of possible answers, the most appropriate answers would be loaf and can.
There are also two main ways of having participants answer a cloze deletion test.
The first way is to provide a list of possible answers to choose from. This is an objective way of testing language comprehension and is generally considered better for lower level students. For example:
There were many ________ at the zoo.
In this example, there are two nouns that would fit the sentence, but only elephantshas the correct pluralization.
The second way is to provide no answers and have the participant write the answer they think is most appropriate. This is a subjective way of testing language comprehension and is generally considered better for more advanced students. It can provide a better analysis of the participants overall language comprehension, while also allowing for multiple possible answers. For example:
My father ________ a new TV last week.
In this example, some possible answers could be bought, purchased and got. Some less likely but also possible answers could be saw, designed or even stole.
The History of Cloze Testing
Cloze testing seems like an obvious way for teachers to test comprehension, so most people assume it has been used in schools for a very long time. However, cloze testing actually has a surprisingly short history.
The “cloze procedure” was developed by Wilson L. Taylor in 1953 while he was doing graduate work at the University of Illinois. According to Taylor:
“It is pronounced like the word “close” and is derived from “closure”. The last term is one Gestalt psychology applies to the human tendency to complete a familiar but not quite finished pattern — to “see” a broken circle as a whole one, for example, by mentally closing up the gaps.”
Taylor originally designed cloze testing as an alternative to the commonly used Dale-Chall and Flesch methods for determining the readability of text. He identified a major problem with both these methods – they were good for testing readability in terms of vocabulary and grammar, but failed to successfully test reader comprehension.
Consider this example presented in Jakob Nielsen’s article Cloze Test For Reading Comprehension:
- He waved his hands.
- He waived his rights.
Both these examples would have similar score on most readability tests, even though the second sentence requires a much higher level of comprehension than the first. Put simply, most pre-schoolers could understand the concept of “waving hands”, but it’s very unlikely that any pre-schooler would comprehend “waving rights”.
After conducting research that compared his new method with the other two popular methods, he concluded that cloze testing was the most valid way of testing readability. Since then, numerous studies have confirmed his conclusion and cloze testing has become a standard method of testing readability around the world.
After making his initial conclusion, Taylor made an important addition to his findings.
“[Cloze testing’s] usefulness is by no means confined either to readability or to the reading ability of individuals… the cloze method appears to a very large number of potential research uses, both practical and theoretical.”
One of the practical uses identified by Taylor was using cloze testing in second language teaching.
The Benefits Of Cloze Tests For Learning A Language
Since Taylor’s original study, a number of studies have been done which look at the effectiveness of using cloze tests in language learning. One particular study by Nation and Webb of twelve different exercises for vocabulary learning found that cloze exercises were the second most effective way for students to retain vocabulary. Furthermore, with just a few simple alterations to the test (such as giving multiple questions for the same target word), cloze exercises would be the most effective method for vocabulary learning among the twelve exercises tested in the study.
One of the best ways to highlight the benefits of cloze testing is to examine some of the problems that students have when studying second language vocabulary with flashcards or other similar methods.
Here are four common complaints:
1) I get sick and tired of constantly having to look up words I don’t know in the dictionary.
Cloze tests teach students the important skill of using context clues to work out the meaning of unknown words, meaning they no longer have to rely on using a dictionary.
2) I’m good at learning the meaning of new words, but I can never remember the rules for using them.
Cloze tests require students to examine language structures, which helps students gain a more holistic view of the language they are studying.
3) I find it hard to study new words when I don’t know how or when they are used.
Cloze tests encourage students to critically examine entire passages and texts while they are reading, rather than just focusing on one single word. By seeing the word in context, they learn both the meaning of the word and the common situations in which it is used.
4) I can only study for a short time before my mind starts to wander.
Cloze tests engage students in “active learning”, which is more engaging than passively reading a text or flipping through flashcards.
As you can see, cloze activities provide a number of benefits that can help make studying a language easier and more effective for many students.
What Is Spaced Repetition Learning?
Another method of studying that has gained popularity in recent years is spaced repetition learning.
Spaced repetition is a learning technique that uses increasing intervals of time between reviewing previously studied words or concepts. It takes advantage of the spacing effect, which suggests that it is easier to learn something by spreading the learning across a large amount of time, rather than trying to “cram” a large amount of material in a short amount of time.
Here’s an example of spaced repetition:
Sally has to memorize the capital cities of all 196 countries in the world. Rather than try to memorize them all at once, she splits them up into 10 groups of approximately 20 countries each.
On Day 1 she studies 20 capital cities and places them into three groups based on her self analysis – easy to remember, moderately difficult to remember and very difficult to remember. She creates a schedule to review the cities – she’ll review the very difficult cities again on Day 2, the moderately difficult cities on Day 3, and she’ll leave the easy cities until Day 8.
On Day 2 she studies 20 new cities as well as the very difficult cities from the day before. Both the new cities and the reviewed cities are categorized into three groups based on their difficulty.
On Day 3 she continues the same pattern – study 20 new cities, review previously studied cities and categorize everything she learns on that day.
As she continues with her studies, Sally recategorizes the words she’s studied based on how well she can remember them, with easier items requiring less review and harder items requiring more review. Her ultimate goal is to have all the words moved into the easy category.
Spaced repetition can be useful for studying all kinds of topics. It’s considered a great way for retaining a large amount of items within one study area. For example, doctors might used spaced repetition to learn parts of the body, or baseball fans might use spaced repetition to remember the batting averages of famous players throughout history.
As you can imagine, spaced repetition is incredibly useful for language learning, as students often need to learn and retain large amounts of vocabulary. A number of popular applications such as Anki and Memrise have made spaced repetition learning easy for anyone who has access to a smartphone or computer.
Language Learning In The Digital Age With Clozemaster
Until recently, language learners had to rely on physical flashcards and other low-tech solutions for learning large amounts of vocabulary. While this method of studying can be useful for some students, many people find it too dull and repetitive to be effective.
These days most people are constantly connected to the internet through their computer or smartphone, which means more people are turning online applications to help them study languages.
One application that is quickly growing in popularity among language learners is Clozemaster, an advanced app that focuses on learning language in context. Clozemaster is considered by many to be a natural extension of Duolingo, making it a great choice for students who have progressed past beginner levels and are wondering what to study next.
Clozemaster combines the benefits of cloze deletion testing with the proven advantages of spaced repetition learning to create a study environment that is challenging, effective and fun.
Clozemaster Makes It Easy To Learn Almost Any Language
While language learning apps like Anki and Memrise use primarily single word lists that are either created by the user or shared by the community, Clozemaster makes it easy for users by drawing both target vocabulary and sample sentences from a massive online database called Tatoeba. This collaborative open-source dataset contains nearly six million sentences and translations and is growing every day, meaning you’ll never run out of new things to study.
Having access to this massive database of language samples allows Clozemaster to offer a wide variety of languages to study. There are currently more than 50 languages available in over 170 language pairings, and there are plans to add many more languages in the near future.
How about learning Cantonese from English? Or maybe you’d like to learn Russian from Italian? There are plenty of study options no matter what language you speak.
Clozemaster also offers a text-to-speech function for many of languages, which makes it easy for you to improve your listening skills while learning new words.
How Clozemaster Chooses Words To Study
Learning a few common words may be enough for a short trip abroad, but if you really want to master a language, you need to progress beyond the basics.
Clozemaster chooses words to study based on a version of Zipf’s Law, which proposes that in any language, a very small set of words occur very frequently, while a large set of words occur infrequently.
For example, it is reported that just ten words (“the,” “be,” “to,” “of,” “and,” “a,” “in,” “that,” “have,” and “I”) make up 25% of recorded words in the English language, while the next 100 most common words make up 50% of recorded language. Studies into other languages have also shown similar statistics.
What this means is that to become proficient in a language, you don’t need to memorize tens of thousands of words, but you do need to progress past the first few hundred most common words. To aid in this process, Clozemaster compares each word in the sample sentence with a list of the most common words in that language, then deletes the least common word that appears on that list. In essence, you are learning the most difficult words among the most common words used in the language you are studying.
You also have the option to limit the deleted words based on their difficulty. If you’re just a beginner in the language, you can choose to focus on the 100 most common words. If you’re an intermediate learner, you can study from a list of the 1000 most common words. If you’re really advanced, you can test your knowledge by studying only extremely rare words.
Gamification Makes Language Learning Fun
Everyone loves playing games.
Incredibly, video gaming has become so popular that people around the world spend approximately 3 billion hours a week playing video games.
One of the most popular trends for language learning is gamification, which uses points systems, leaderboards, badges, power-ups and other game mechanics to make language learning more engaging and enjoyable. Numerous studies (such as this study of language learners in Macau) have shown that gamification is both enjoyable for students and effective for vocabulary retention.
Clozemaster uses gamification by providing points for correct answers, bonus points for written answers, and scorekeeping. Users are constantly challenged to increase their top score, which motivates them to keep learning.
Language Students Love Using Clozemaster
More and more happy users are spreading the word about how Clozemaster has helped them master second language vocabulary.
“Definitely a great and different way of learning! Sometimes we think of giving up on learning because languages are indeed difficult to learn, even more when we are bombarded with grammar and don’t even know where to start! This kind of app encourages people in a lovely way!”– Lais Reis, Clozemaster User
“This app is fast becoming my primary resource for deeper study. It’s reliable, addictive and has so many language combinations that you won’t run out. Absolutely love it!”– Rob Flye, Clozemaster User
“Fantastic app; one of very few I actually keep and use after downloading…and I’ve downloaded many! Requested Thai language to be added and the developer responded within a few days. Wow.”– Matthew Shelhamer, Clozemaster User
How Can I Try Clozemaster?
Clozemaster is completely free to sign up and play. There is also paid version called Clozemaster Pro, which comes with advanced features such as more stats, favoriting sentences, and customizing game play. Clozemaster Pro costs just $8 a month (or $60 a year with a 30-day money back guarantee), with all funds put towards the continued development of language learning tools.
If you’re interested in trying a more effective and enjoyable way of learning vocabulary in context, head to www.clozemaster.com and start studying today!