Commentary Logo
Japan Island disputes in SE Asia    World War III Alarm Anti-Islam video and anti-US sentiment    Skull Say no to brainwashing

       peace and anti-war Israel Iran strike imminent    sanctions as a result of nuclear tests Sanctions on Iran and workarounds    black lightning bolt India's massive blackout

Snapshots of news
Gearheads and mastheads
Home  •  About this site  •  How did we once fight corruption in colonial Hong Kong?
 •  Historical US administrative thoughts  •  USA versus colonial Hong Kong
 •  Anti-corruption review of Nigeria  •  Procurement monitoring in Nigeria
 •  Syndicated news  •  Usman's blog  •  Anti-graft news  •  Socialist news

 Sunday, September 22 2019 5:55am Hongkong Time

SKIP TO     Page 1 | Page 2 | References

Language acquisition:

A critique on "A corpus driven study of the potential for vocabulary learning through watching movies"

Raymond Cheng

Photo © Pavel Losevsky

About the journal paper

The following is a critique of the journal paper written by Dr. Stuart Webb (2010), Senior Lecturer with the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at the Victoria University of Wellington, in the area of language acquisition (specifically, vocabulary learning) titled, "A corpus driven study of the potential for vocabulary learning through watching movies," appearing in International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 15(4), pp. 497-519, published 2010 [1]. The paper attempted to justify the potential for significant incidental vocabulary learning by watching movies regularly over time through comparing frequency of words that appear from the transcripts of 143 movies with Nation's (2004) 4th to 14th 1,000-word BNC lists. The paper claimed that movies may be a valuable resource for incidental vocabulary learning.

But before I start, I need to disclaim my gut feeling toward the paper – I love going to movies and, personally speaking, I have really learnt a great deal of vocabulary from movies of all sort (including Hollywood, British, French, etc.) over the years. So basically, I would consider myself to be a believer of Webb's research. But this time I will try to be a bit more critical and see if this is really what I have always believed.

Starting from the cognitive perspective

Unless you have better home equipment, find 3D experience a turn-off, hate to bump into those laugh-at-anything text-along-the-movie rebellions, human IMDBs [2] who spew out spoilers or late comers who make noisy entrances, going to a movie for entertainment may not be a bad choice. However, how attentive cinema-goers can remain during the average one-and-a-half-hour movie can be a different issue – especially when it comes to incidental vocabulary learning. Built upon earlier psychology models [3], contemporary cognition theories [4a] on attention (Treisman & Gelade, 1980; Wolfe, 1994) tell us that people become more attentive with tasks when there is more than one type of stimulus or modality, which explains why people get attracted and focused during movies. However, our attention (or cognitive load) varies not only with culture (Correa-Chavez & Rogoff, 2011) but can also be selective [4b] (Eriksen & Hoffman, 1972; Eriksen & St James, 1986) and change as we age (Lavie, Hirst, de Fockert & Viding, 2004). Younger people are able to process multiple stimuli but find it more difficult to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information whereas older people find it easier to identify what is relevant yet they become less capable of processing multiple stimuli (p.341). In terms of incidental vocabulary learning through watching movie, such concept would translate into the notion that younger people may fail to identify the "relevant" moments for learning vocabulary because they are more likely to be distracted by their better perception toward other stimuli, e.g. actions on the screen, background music, special effects etc., whereas older people may well be concentrating on the "relevant" development as well as the underlying message and philosophy of the film, hence bypassing the opportunity to learn a new term or word. In other words, the claim that the potential of incidental vocabulary learning can be realized by comparing the movie transcripts and Nation's (2004) BNC word lists is, in terms of cognitive theories, kind of problematic [5a], not to mention when most of the usual components of "incidental learning", e.g. task accomplishment, interpersonal interaction, sense of the organized environment and trial-and-error experience (Marsick & Watkins, 2001, p.25) (obviously for adults, in this case), are simply absent – leaving questions toward the paper's research methodology that really requires some further clarification and explanation [5b].

But even if the methodology had stood the challenge, the criteria in which data was collected would still have compromised the research's internal validity. A check of the 143 movies studied in the paper against the top 10 films [6] with the highest gross revenues of each decade (in Table 1) as well as those with the highest UNESCO film popularity scores [7] (see Figure 1) reveals that the author's choice of movies were neither commercially geared toward the box office, nor statistically favored in terms of the actual admission headcounts [8], let alone preferentially selected for analyzing the effects of any particular movie sequel or trans-media production [9]. While the author attributed such a choice to the "availability of movie scripts" (Webb, 2010, p. 504), it is, given that text-formatted subtitles can now be easily extracted from any DVDs or downloaded instantly from online subtitle databases [10], obviously ungrounded. And, adding to the fact that some of these movies date back to as early as the 1930s [11], one may question on the generalizability of the results when we know that the use of a language does change and evolve over time.

1980-1989 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Back to the Future (1985)
Batman (1989)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
1990-1999 Home Alone (1990)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Forrest Gump (1994)
The Lion King (1994)
Independence Day (1996)
Titanic (1997)
Men in Black (1997)
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
2000-2009 Spider-Man (2002)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Shrek 2 (2004)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Avatar (2009)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Table 1. Top 10 movies of the decade, 1980-2010 (in terms of gross revenue)

UNESCO Popularity scores of top 20 featured films 2007-2009
Figure 1. Popularity scores [12] of top 20 featured films 2007-2009. Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, January 2012. Note that the data-splits for each of the years are characterized by their respective color dotted lines.

UNESCO Frequency of attendance per capita for the top 10 countries
Figure 2. Frequency of attendance per capita [13] for the top 10 countries (population aged 5 to 79), 2006-2009. Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, January 2012.

SKIP TO     Page 1 | Page 2 | References

Note 1: Also available electronically, doi 10.1075/ijcl.15.4.03

Note 2: IMDB, Internet Movie Database, see

Note 3: See Wicken's (1984) Multiple Resource Theory (MRT) model.

Note 4a: Please refer to the highly influential Feature Integration Theory (1980) developed by Anne Treisman and Garry Gelade and the Guided Search Theory (1993) by Jeremy Wolfe.

Note 4b: For details on selective attention, see the Spotlight model (Eriksen & Hoffman, 1972) and the Zoomlens model (Eriksen & St James, 1986).

Note 5a: The author of the journal paper, Dr. Stuart Webb, pointed out the following in an email to me: "Corpus-driven studies of incidental vocabulary learning provide an indication of how the occurrence of vocabulary in a text type might affect learning. Thus, they indicate what might happen in empirical studies and suggest that the research is followed up with empirical studies doing this. In my study, it is not about the specific movies that were analyzed. These sets of movies provide an indication of the likely distribution of vocabulary occurrence in a certain amount of viewing time. Thus, if we replaced one set with a completely different set, we may find a similar distribution of words according to frequency."

Note 5a: Dr. Stuart Webb also mentioned that I had misunderstood the nature of corpus driven methodologies and disagreed that there had been methodological flaws. The study, according to Webb, was not an empirical study reporting that people would learn a certain number of words through watching certain sets of movies.

Note 6: See the all-time box office hits (by decade and year) at

Note 7: According to United Nations Education, Scientific and Culture Organization (UNESCO), film popularity is the measure of cinema admissions (UNESCO, 2012).

Note 8: Because cinema ticket prices vary across countries, the box office record should not be presumed to be an accurate reflection of the admission headcount. In addition, according to a research paper (Saptadi, 2009) published by The Nippon Foundation, blockbusters from Hollywood now account for at least 75% of the European market, 96% of box office receipts in Taiwan, approximately 78% in Thailand, 65% in Japan, and more than 60% in mainland China (Jensen, 2012)... etc. In fact, Asia is Hollywood's fastest growing regional market and it is predicted that within 20 years Asia could be responsible for as much as 60 percent of Hollywood¡¦s box-office revenue. In short, we do need to look at the box office because people are going to those movies!

Note 9: Movie sequels and trans-media films (i.e. characters, settings and storylines developed across print, film and web-based media) are much more popular than just the average movie (UNESCO, 2012).

Note 10: There are websites that allow the general public to download movie subtitles in a variety of languages free of charge, for instance, the Open Subtitles website at

Note 11: Out of the 143 movies selected for Webb's (2010) journal paper, 36 of them, i.e. over 25% of all movies, were released before the 1970s.

Note 12: Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, January 2012. Note that the data-splits for each of the years are characterized by their respective color dotted lines.

Note 13: In 2006, Ireland appeared in the list due to the exceptional success of the Irish movie "The Wind that shakes the Barley."

Commentary and reflection pages by Raymond Cheng, PhD DPA FRSA

  Main • Commentary   Special Foci • Syndicated News | Corruption | Socialism | GuanXi

  Health Related • Traditional Chinese Medicine   Others • OXLL

© 1997-2018 The Commentary by Office of Dr Raymond Cheng. All rights reserved. Copyright of selected news articles, the headlines and logos belongs to the respective entities. Read disclaimer

Digital platform powered by Wyith Limited, Wyith Institute. Wyith Limited and Wyith Institute are associated businesses operated by the Office of Dr Raymond Cheng • Dr Raymond Cheng & Partners Ltd and The Commentary Ltd.

Home  •  About this site  •  How did we once fight corruption in colonial Hong Kong?
 •  Historical US administrative thoughts  •  USA versus colonial Hong Kong
 •  Anti-corruption review of Nigeria  •  Procurement monitoring in Nigeria
 •  Syndicated news  •  Usman's blog  •  Anti-graft news  •  Socialist news

Contact the editor at raymond {dot} cheng {at} kellogg {dot} oxon {dot} org

The RendezvousBuildersCommentatorsContributorsReadersResearchers
Reflection Pages • Miscellaneous Stuff
The difference between instant evaluation and improving recognition – November 20
Freddy Krueger revisited: Politically correct education? – October 23
From the evaluator's perspective: Justified conclusions and decisions – October 8
Online and distance learning degrees – evaluator's perspective – September 25
The moment fake degrees turned recognized and appraised – September 9

Photo credits for top title bar, from left to right: Iza H (Work), Lukasz Gumowski (Blue balls), Marcin Bania (Smiling and naked), Lautaro Gonda (Milan station), Jan Abt (Girl taking a picture), Daniel Tang (Hot switch), Barbara Henry (Moriah reading), Ralf Herrmann (Checkmate II), Marko Roeper (Led #4), Ian Russell (Girl in downtown LA).
Note: Animated GIF graphics and clipart obtained from,,, and Sketches, cartoons and other handdrawings courtesy of Alice-the-Artist.

Special Alert! This is *NOT* the American Jewish Committee's Commentary Magazine! Special notice! This is not the American Jewish Committee's Commentary Magazine nor are we in any way affiliated with them. To visit AJC's magazine, please go to instead, thank you for your attention.
Memo with pin Technical memos for members
Receiving using Gmail | Sending using Gmail
0x800ccc0e | 0x800ccc19 | 0x800ccc79

This site is best viewed with Microsoft® Internet Explorer 6.0 or above, minimum 1024x768 16M color-depth resolution. The Commentary Group and its personnel do not endorse external sites and are not responsible for the content of these websites. All external sites will open in a new browser window.

COUNT ON THE STATISTICS  100% Towels (c) Daniel Chittka
Photo © Daniel Chittka

This new section contains some interesting statistics in bribe and corruption, please check back for more as we pile up our numbers!

It's statistics time!  Using n-gram: kickback, graft, bribe and corruption - Comparison of their historical occurrences from 1810 to 2009 A.D.

  The word guanxi (collocation) and meanings of bribe: Deeply rooted, disgusting, sad endings

Looking for a good book (c) Doug Logan
Photo © Doug Logan
tagged by area of interestBY AREA OF INTEREST
Pragmatics: Politeness trends from the historical perspective of global trade
Computer mediated communications: Social network – Came riding the waves of amazing coincidences
Language acquisition:
A critique on "A corpus driven study of the potential for vocabulary learning through watching movies"

Grammatical analysis: "When a linguist stumbled upon a Buttonwood"
Lexicon and the corpus: "John Sinclair's lexical items – an introduction"
tagged by regionBY REGION • Anything AsiaUS Presence in Asia
ChinaTaiwanHong Kong and MacauJapanKoreaSingaporeMalaysiaPhilippinesPakistanIndiaAfghanistanVietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and MyanmarTimor-Leste and IndonesiaMongoliaNew Zealand and Australia
tagged by topicsBY TOPIC • BiofuelRhino and elephant poachingAmerican movies hit China marketChina Internet censorshipChina's outward FDI opportunitiesGlobal rice yield
Island disputes in Southeast Asia | Senkakus-Diaoyu and historical findings | Dokdo-Takeshima | Spratly, Paracel, Scarborough | Kurils

For those you who don't have time to read all our news excerpts about the Asian island disputes (links above), you may find the following video, "The economic impact of a war between Japan and China", very enlightening.

© Minute MBA: More from

Free Pussy Riot!
Free Pussy Riot!

Photo © Igor Mukhin, retrieved from Wikipedia

"This trial is another example of the Kremlin's attempts to discourage and delegitimize dissent. It is likely to backfire." John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Programme

 More from Amnesty InternationalFree Pussy Riot

How it started – Pussy Riot Prayers, February 2012

08/17 Pussy Riot imprisoned on hooliganism charges
08/17 The only professionals in sight
08/19 Pussy Riot protesters arrested in Marseille
08/20 NZ PM – Sentence 'disproportionate'
08/20 Pussy Riot fear their kids being put in care
08/22 German supporters face criminal charges
08/22 Pussy Riot – it's carefully calibrated
08/23 Russian church-state corruption unveiled
08/23 Putin's secret weapon: The Orthodox faithful
08/24 Putin-nominated watchdog slams convictions
08/31 'Pussy Riot ritual killing', man detained
09/03 Orthodox deacon speaks over verdict
09/06 Putin denies part in 'Pussy Riot case'
09/10 Pussy Riot benefit concert draws 1,000
09/10 Gorbachev says verdict "disproportionate"
09/19 Punk group to transfer to remote penal colony
09/21 Aung San calls on Moscow to release RP
10/01 Sentence appeal delayed until Oct 10
10/10 Katya freed, 2 years for Nadya and Masha
10/16 Masha and Nadya sent to remote labor prison

BBC • Pussy Riot women begin life in prison

11/16 Merkel challanges Putin on imprisonment
11/22 Maria Alekhina transferred to solitary cell
11/28 Tolokonnikova's appeal case goes to court
12/24 Extremist videos appeal adjourned

01/15 Masha's sentence deferment denied
02/01 PR civil claim granted right to appeal
02/07 Pussy Riot files complaint with ECHR
03/06 Ombudsman asks court to overturn verdict
03/08 Protesters detained in Moscow
04/13 PR gets reprimand: parole problematic
04/21 PR defense seeks abolition of conviction
07/26 Parole denied, PR remains defiant

The Knife supporting PR at Pukkelpop

08/17 Against verdict on PR – Day of Solidarity
08/23 PR seeks mitigation of remaining sentence
GLUCK ON SOCIALISM AND CHINA Asia (c) Robert Churchill
Photo © Robert Churchill

Professor Sidney Gluck (c) Sandi BachomI am honored to have obtained Professor Sidney Gluck's (right) permission to allow me to repost here some of his work and interview related to China and socialism. Professor Gluck is professor emertius at the New School University in New York. A classical Marxist, Gluck has been studying China for 60 years in history and modern development. He has lectured all over the U.S. and still welcomes engagement at the age of 94 – photo © Sandi Bachom


Usman Khurshid on Mike McCune's HD Monitor with Paths logo with Maartje van Caspel's Public Space
I am proud to announce that the website is now carrying the technology updates from Usman Khurshid's Usman is a network consultant and works in a mixed environment of Windows and Linux platforms. He likes to study about the latest advancements in computer technology and shares his views on his blog.

Click here to read Usman's tech blog
Subscribe to RSS feed
Photo © Usman Khurshid, Mike McCune, Maartje van Caspel
COMING 2019 – COMPUTING CORPUS Active Network Hub (c) Phil Sigin-Lavdanski
Photo © Phil Sigin-Lavdanski

Oh, please do not get me wrong. This new section is not about computers, electronics or any engineering stuff, but rather I am currently constructing a new corpus based on Spectrum, the monthly publication from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers USA, from July 2007 to date. Having been a member for over 20 years since 1992, I am always fascinated by some of the terms scientists use when they talk about or envision their new inventions or methodologies. How many of them eventually come into practice? Could there be some insights we could possibly derive, from the linguistics perspective?


This website is published and designed by Raymond Cheng, PhD DPA and reflects only his personal views and opinions in his individual capacity. It does not represent the views and opinions of his firm, employer(s), students, etc., and is not in any way sponsored or endorsed by any other thrid parties. Click here to read my full disclaimer

Share on Twitter  Add to Facebook  Share on LinkedIn  +1 on Google