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Phonological similarity influences word learning in adults learning Spanish as a foreign language*



Neighborhood density – the number of words that sound similar to a given word (Luce & Pisoni, 1998) – influences word learning in native English-speaking children and adults (Storkel, 2004; Storkel, Armbruster & Hogan, 2006): novel words with many similar sounding English words (i.e., dense neighborhood) are learned more quickly than novel words with few similar sounding English words (i.e., sparse neighborhood). The present study examined how neighborhood density influences word learning in native English-speaking adults learning Spanish as a foreign language. Students in their third semester of Spanish-language classes learned advanced Spanish words that sounded similar to many known Spanish words (i.e., dense neighborhood) or sounded similar to few known Spanish words (i.e., sparse neighborhood). In three word-learning tasks, performance was better for Spanish words with dense rather than sparse neighborhoods. These results suggest that a similar mechanism may be used to learn new words in a native and a foreign language.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Michael S. Vitevitch, Spoken Language Laboratory, Department of Psychology, 1415 Jayhawk Blvd., University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA


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This research was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health to the University of Kansas through the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) R01 DC 006472), the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development P30 HD002528), and the Center for Biobehavioral Neurosciences in Communication Disorders (NIDCD P30 DC005803). The experiments in this report partially fulfilled the requirements for a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Foreign Language Education-Curriculum and Instruction awarded to MKS. We thank the members of the committee (Manuela Gonzalez-Bueno (co-chair), Joan A. Sereno, Lizette Peter, and Suzanne Rice) and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.



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