Contrasting orthographically similar words facilitates adult second language vocabulary learning
Number of pages
SourceLearning and Instruction, 80, (2022), article 101582
Article / Letter to editor
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Learning and Instruction
SubjectAction, intention, and motor control; Cognitive and developmental aspects of Multilingualism; Language & Communication; Learning and Plasticity; Psycholinguistics
When learners acquire new words in a second language (L2), their lexical representations and links are initially imprecise. As new, similar words are learned, these representations must become more specific to avoid errors. This study investigated whether contrasting similar words triggers this sharpening process and facilitates learning. In a multiple-choice learning task, 114 adults acquired orthographically and semantically similar L2 (pseudo)words by either contrasting them or not. In Experiment 1, participants contrasted the L2 words, and in Experiment 2 they contrasted words in their first language. Only contrasting orthographically similar L2 words facilitated their acquisition. We conclude that contrasting underspecified representations serves as a learning mechanism that guides attention to relevant lexical information. As such, it enables learners to build more specific representations and is conducive to learning. Possibilities for further research and potential implications for L2 vocabulary instruction are discussed.
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