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SECOND LANGUAGE IDIOM LEARNING IN A PAIRED-ASSOCIATE PARADIGM: Effects of Direction of Learning, Direction of Testing, Idiom Imageability, and Idiom Transparency

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 July 2007

Margarita P. Steinel
University of Amsterdam
Jan H. Hulstijn
University of Amsterdam
Wolfgang Steinel
Leiden University


In a paired-associate learning (PAL) task, Dutch university students (n = 129) learned 20 English second language (L2) idioms either receptively or productively (i.e., L2-first language [L1] or L1-L2) and were tested in two directions (i.e., recognition or production) immediately after learning and 3 weeks later. Receptive and productive performance was affected by direction of learning. This finding parallels findings from PAL experiments on L2 individual-word learning. On a productive test, productive learners had a sizable advantage over receptive learners, whereas on recognition, receptive learners outperformed productive learners. Two idiom characteristics, imageability (capacity to evoke a mental image) and transparency (overlap between literal and figurative meaning), as assessed in a norming study by an independent sample (n = 80), qualified these findings. Indicating the importance of dual coding in idiom learning, imageability predicted performance, and receptive learning was particularly inefficient for low imageable idioms. Transparency was a weaker predictor of performance and only affected recognition.This study is based on the first author's MA research. We would like to thank the four anonymous SSLA reviewers for their helpful comments on this manuscript. Any errors or omissions remain our own.

Research Article
© 2007 Cambridge University Press

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