Incidental learning through animated cartoons

A case study of intermediate Italian L2 learners

Stefano Maranzana, University of Arizona


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Today’s language teachers find increasing resources online, which allows access to a greater variety of authentic materials (Kern, 2014). For example, digital videos bring new possibilities for incidental learning and learner’ autonomy (Robin, 2011). While conscious attention is on the message delivered by the audiovisual, learners assimilate new words from context without intending to do so, stimulating incidental vocabulary learning (Carlisle, 2007). Videos’ inherent multimodality makes sensory information available in various semiotic codes, allowing the comprehension of information via separate channels (Guichon & McLornan, 2008).

This case study involves three students of advanced Italian at a large American University. It will argue in favor of video cartoons as a valuable tool to create a constructive environment for the acquisition of the L2 (Bahrani, 2014). Specifically, we will look at the award-winning British preschool cartoon Peppa Pig in its Italian version. The rationale for choosing this particular cartoon includes: 5 minutes of episode length, authentic interpersonal language and descriptive prose, slow pace of speech, familiar every-day and humorous stories, free online access and the possibility to activate captions. Furthermore, it is applicable to the 30 other languages in which the cartoon has been translated.

Conventionally, authentic materials are those that are created by native speakers for native speakers. While Peppa Pig is originally in English, the dubbing is rendered by Italian actors for the Italian audience, with a suitable speech rate for young children. Indeed, excessive rate of speech in authentic materials may be a setback for comprehension, whereas the ideal pace is estimated to be between 100 and 150 words per minute (Griffiths, 1992). Short narratives with simple plots and familiar themes are less demanding in terms of attention span and background knowledge than longer videos, such as movies (Robin, 2011). Furthermore, watching cartoons may promote a low affective filter environment considered conducive to learners’ motivation (Rule & Ague, 2005).

Feedback from university-level students confirms the potential of this particular cartoon and will be presented in this poster. Students reported strong motivation and improvement in areas like vocabulary, pragmatics and idiomatic expressions from contextual clues.

Stefano Maranzana

University of Arizona