Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Advisor 1

Shane T. Mueller

Committee Member 1

Robert L. Pastel

Committee Member 2

Adam D. Feltz

Committee Member 3

Alena G. Esposito


Fluency in a second language (L2) is one of the most important skills for the modern world. However, adults learning a new language face many obstacles, including motivation, time, and other challenges in learning. Technology learning tools may help solve these problems. In this dissertation, I tested the effectiveness of cognitive word games as a vocabulary learning method, with the main goal of investigating how different word games including a crossword paradigm task, a free association task and a word-stem completion task were effective at improving vocabulary memory access. The games selectively increased semantic (meaning) or orthographic (spelling) associations in an English lexicon, which may lead to improved access and usage of L2 vocabulary.

Three experiments were conducted. Experiment 1 examined lexical memory and recognition/retrieval processes in native English speakers. The results showed a significant effect of the game conditions on response times of a lexical association task, such that the most effective training game was the free association task. Experiment 2 was designed to probe the same game effectiveness with non-native English speakers. This time, the findings indicated significant effects of the training games on correct responses of the lexical association task and response times of a new anagram solving task.

Experiment 3 was designed to investigate the game effectiveness on comprehensive English reading test scores. The results suggested that after a week of training, the games failed to improve learners' performance on the English reading scores. However, training methods differed in how much the learners improved during the practice, with crossword practice leading to large improvements and word stem completion getting worse, indicating differences in engagement and in-task language learning. In addition, feedback from participants revealed that some of them enjoyed the games, especially the crossword paradigm task.

In summary, these studies provided a broad understanding of using the word games to enhance English vocabulary skills. The games can be used for further lexical investigations or adapted for classroom purposes.