A Lexicographical Perspective to Intentional and Incidental Learning: Approaching an Old Question from a New Angle

  • Sven Tarp Centre for Lexicographical Studies, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China; Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; International Centre for Lexicography, Valladolid University, Spain; Centre of Excellence in Language Technology, Ordbogen A/S, Denmark, and Centre for Lexicography, Aarhus University, Denmark


Second-language learning is a complex process that combines text reception (reading, listening) and text production (writing, talking). Applied linguistics usually distinguishes between intentional and incidental learning. The academic literature contains various definitions of these concepts, espe­cially in connection with reading. The paper explores L2 learning from a lexi­co­graphical perspective and redefines the two terms based on parameters like flow, focus, and inter­ruption. It then focuses on digital dictionaries integrated into e-readers, learning apps, and writing assistants, and argues that this inte­gration, so far, has not been particularly successful due to a number of negative factors. As an alternative, the paper provides examples of how lexicographical data could be filtered and presented in pop-up windows to serve both inci­dental and intentional learning. The former requires instantaneous, contextu­alized, and discreet assistance with an abso­lute minimum of lexicographical data, whereas the latter presupposes easy access to relevant addi­tional data. Finally, the paper discusses the techniques and technologies required to guar­antee this approach. Keywords: incidental learning, intentional learning, integrated dic­tionaries, e-readers, e-reading tools, learning apps, writing assistants, intuitive use, context-awareness, lexicographical contextualization