ERIC Number: EJ1113061
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2016-Sep
Abstractor: As Provided
Difficulty in Learning Similar-Sounding Words: A Developmental Stage or a General Property of Learning?
Pajak, Bozena; Creel, Sarah C.; Levy, Roger
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, v42 n9 p1377-1399 Sep 2016
How are languages learned, and to what extent are learning mechanisms similar in infant native-language (L1) and adult second-language (L2) acquisition? In terms of vocabulary acquisition, we know from the infant literature that the ability to discriminate similar-sounding words at a particular age does not guarantee successful word-meaning mapping at that age (Stager & Werker, 1997). However, it is unclear whether this difficulty arises from developmental limitations of young infants (e.g., poorer working memory) or whether it is an intrinsic part of the initial word learning, L1 and L2 alike. In this study, we show that adults of particular L1 backgrounds--just like young infants--have difficulty learning similar-sounding L2 words that they can nevertheless discriminate perceptually. This suggests that the early stages of word learning, whether L1 or L2, intrinsically involve difficulty in mapping similar-sounding words onto referents. We argue that this is due to an interaction between 2 main factors: (a) memory limitations that pose particular challenges for highly similar-sounding words, and (b) uncertainty regarding the language's phonetic categories, because the categories are being learned concurrently with words. Overall, our results show that vocabulary acquisition in infancy and adulthood shares more similarities than previously thought, thus supporting the existence of common learning mechanisms that operate throughout the life span.
Descriptors: Second Language Learning, Language Processing, Auditory Perception, Speech, Second Language Instruction, Word Recognition, Language Acquisition, Native Language, Vocabulary, Memory, Adults, Undergraduate Students, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Phonemes, Vowels, Infants, Developmental Stages, Comparative Analysis, Phonetics, Phonological Awareness, English (Second Language)
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Sponsor: National Institutes of Health (DHHS)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: California (San Diego)
Grant or Contract Numbers: T32DC000041; T32DC000035