Chapter 15. Foreign language vocabulary learning

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This chapter reviews the results of a set of experiments that examined foreign-language (FL) vocabulary learning by late learners, exploiting the paired-associate-learning (PAL) paradigm. The effects on acquisition and retention of the concreteness and frequency of the native-language (L1) words, the (phonotactical) typicality of the FL words, and the cognate relation between the L1 words and their FL translations were studied. To determine long-term retention a retest took place one week after learning. The results showed substantial effects of concreteness, typicality and cognate status: More concrete, typical, and cognate words were learned than abstract, atypical, and non-cognate words, respectively. Learning was also better for frequent than for infrequent words, but this effect was relatively small. Furthermore, the retest indicated that the words acquired best during the learning phase were also those retained best: The forgetting functions were steeper for abstract, atypical, and non-cognate words than for concrete, typical, and cognate words. We explain these effects in terms of differential pre-experimental long-term memory knowledge (concreteness and frequency), phonological short- and long-term memory (typicality), and a retrieval cue that exists for cognates but not for non-cognates (cognate status).


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