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We investigated the extent to which language tests developed for native speakers (L1) can be used with advanced speakers of a second language (L2). We compared the performance of Dutch–English bilinguals with that of native English speakers on a series of English language tests, looking at vocabulary knowledge, crystallized intelligence, reading comprehension, and reading speed. It was found that advanced L2 speakers know fewer L2 words than native speakers and take longer to read texts but perform equally well on text comprehension. Tests optimized for native English-speakers predicted text comprehension less well than tests better adapted to the skill level of the bilinguals (which include the Lextale test). An exploratory graphical analysis suggested that L2 users’ performance on challenging vocabulary tests, along with performance on an English author recognition test, forms a distinct cluster – arguably also measuring interest in English language and culture besides knowledge in general (also called crystallized intelligence).
Morphological awareness contributes to vocabulary acquisition and reading in bilingual children who learned English after their native language. In line with these considerations, we further investigated L2 processing in late adult bilinguals where questions related to morphology need to be clarified. French–English speakers (N = 92) were assessed for three morphological awareness stages: lexical semantic knowledge, syntactic knowledge, and distributive knowledge. We investigated whether the evolution of morphological awareness was related to L2 proficiency and whether it was facilitated by the presence of suffixes shared in L1 and L2. Our results confirmed the influence of language proficiency at each stage of morphological awareness. However, the hypothesis of an advantage of suffixes shared between French and English was not confirmed as no clear advantage was found for those suffixes. Our findings are discussed in line with the morphological congruence hypothesis and compared with the previous results in the literature.
Research into second language (L2) reading is an exponentially growing field. Yet, it still has a relatively short supply of comparable, ecologically valid data from readers representing a variety of first languages (L1). This article addresses this need by presenting a new data resource called MECO L2 (Multilingual Eye Movements Corpus), a rich behavioral eye-tracking record of text reading in English as an L2 among 543 university student speakers of 12 different L1s. MECO L2 includes a test battery of component skills of reading and allows for a comparison of the participants’ reading performance in their L1 and L2. This data resource enables innovative large-scale cross-sample analyses of predictors of L2 reading fluency and comprehension. We first introduce the design and structure of the MECO L2 resource, along with reliability estimates and basic descriptive analyses. Then, we illustrate the utility of MECO L2 by quantifying contributions of four sources to variability in L2 reading proficiency proposed in prior literature: reading fluency and comprehension in L1, proficiency in L2 component skills of reading, extralinguistic factors, and the L1 of the readers. Major findings included (a) a fundamental contrast between the determinants of L2 reading fluency versus comprehension accuracy, and (b) high within-participant consistency in the real-time strategy of reading in L1 and L2. We conclude by reviewing the implications of these findings to theories of L2 acquisition and outline further directions in which the new data resource may support L2 reading research.
A second language can be learned inside and outside the classroom. In this study we investigated the English and French vocabulary knowledge of 110 Dutch-speaking children (age 10–12), who received 100 hours of instruction in French, whereas their contact with English came from out-of-school exposure only. We examined the role of individual differences (out-of-school exposure and gender) and word-related variables (cognateness, frequency, and language). The children completed a receptive vocabulary test in English and French and filled in a questionnaire. The results showed that the children had a larger vocabulary knowledge in English than in French, illustrating the power of contextual language learning. Word learning was influenced by the amount of exposure, word frequency, and cognateness. Additionally, English words were easier to learn than French words for the participants we tested. Our results point to the need for out-of-school exposure to supplement language learning in the classroom.
In this study we investigated 107 young learners’ L2 English receptive vocabulary knowledge and speaking skills at two points in time, before and after the onset of instruction. We also investigated the role of several individual difference variables: out-of-school exposure to English, length of instruction, analytic reasoning ability, working memory, L1 vocabulary knowledge and prior L2 knowledge. Results show that L2 English proficiency in receptive vocabulary knowledge and speaking skills greatly improved over time and that the effects of schooling and contextual learning are largely additive. The main predictor of the children's proficiency at time 2 was their L2 prior knowledge, which they had acquired through contextual language learning before getting formal education. When considering the other variables that predicted L2 proficiency, the contribution of internal variables (L1 vocabulary size and working memory) was considerably smaller than that of external variables (out-of-school exposure and length of instruction).
Low power in empirical studies can be compared to blurred vision. It makes the signal ambiguous, so that conclusions depend more on interpretation than on observation. Data patterns that look sensible are published as evidence for theoretical positions and unclear patterns are discarded as noise, whereas both could be due to sampling error or could be a perfect reflection of the population parameters. Simulations indicate that little research with sample sizes lower than 100 participants per group provides a picture of enough resolution to draw firm conclusions. This is particularly true for research comparing groups of people and involving interaction effects. As a result, it is to be feared that many findings in bilingualism research do not have a firm base, certainly not if they go beyond a simple comparison of two within-participants conditions.
Bilingual ambiguity can arise when a word form is shared across languages but the meanings are different in each language (e.g., the word pie means foot in Spanish). The way bilinguals process this ambiguity informs us about general bilingual language processing. Do bilinguals activate both meanings of an ambiguous word or is only the meaning in the contextually relevant language activated? The current review presents studies that have explored cross-language ambiguity and the factors influencing bilingual ambiguity resolution. It examines how interactions of language context, frequency, task demands, and/or individual differences such as proficiency and executive control influence cross-language ambiguity effects. The review concludes that the bilingual language system is organized in an integrated lexicon that is accessed language-nonselectively but that it is important to take into account all of the possibly interacting factors.
In this study we examined the level of English proficiency children can obtain through out-of-school exposure in informal contexts prior to English classroom instruction. The second aim was to determine the input types that fuel children's informal language acquisition. Language learning was investigated in 780 Dutch-speaking children (aged 10–12), who were tested on their English receptive vocabulary knowledge, listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Information about learner characteristics and out-of-school English exposure was gathered using questionnaires. The results show large language gains for a substantial number of children but also considerable individual differences. The most beneficial types of input were gaming, use of social media and speaking. These input types are interactive and multimodal and they involve language production. We also found that the various language tests largely measure the same proficiency component.
Despite an increase in bilingualism and the use of English as a medium of instruction, little research has been done on bilingual memory for learnt information. In a previous study, we found an L2 recall cost but equal recognition performance in L2 versus L1 when students studied short expository texts (Vander Beken & Brysbaert, 2017). In this paper, we investigate whether there is a recognition cost after a longer delay, which would indicate that the memory trace is weaker in L2. Results showed equal performance in L1 and L2, suggesting that the recall cost is either located at the production level, or that the levels-of-processing effect is mediated by language, with unaffected surface encoding leading to effective marginal knowledge on the one hand, and hampered deep encoding leading to ineffective (uncued) recall. This paper also contains the Dutch vocabulary test we used for native speakers.
Little is known about the extent to which information encoding and retrieval differ between materials studied in first and second language (L1 and L2). In this study we compared memory for short, expository texts in L1 and L2, tested with a free recall test and a true/false judgement test. Our results show that students performed at the same level on the recognition test in both languages but not on the free recall test, with much lower performance in L2 than in L1, defined here as the dominant language. The L2 recall cost suggests that students’ performance may be underestimated if they are exclusively tested with essay-type exams in L2.
Reading affords opportunities for L2 vocabulary acquisition. Empirical research into the pace and trajectory of this acquisition has both theoretical and applied value. Charting the development of different aspects of word knowledge can verify and inform theoretical frameworks of word learning and reading comprehension. It can also inform practical decisions about using L2 readings in academic study. Monitoring readers’ eye movements provides real-time data on word learning, under the conditions that closely approximate adult L2 vocabulary acquisition from reading. In this study, Dutch-speaking university students read an English expository text, while their eye movements were recorded. Of interest were patterns of change in the eye movements on the target low-frequency words that occurred multiple times in the text, and whether differences in the processing of target and control (known) words decreased overtime. Target word reading outside of the familiar text was examined in a posttest using semantically neutral sentences. The findings show that orthographic processing develops relatively quickly and reliably. However, online retrieval of meaning remains insufficient for fluent word-to-text integration even after multiple contextual encounters.
The word frequency effect is stronger in second language (L2) processing than in first language (L1) processing. According to the lexical entrenchment hypothesis, this difference is not due to a qualitative difference in word processing between L1 and L2, but can be explained by differences in exposure to the target language: People with less exposure to a language show a steeper frequency curve for that language. Exposure differences can be measured with a vocabulary test. The present study tested whether the lexical entrenchment hypothesis provides an adequate explanation for differences in lexical decision times. To this end, we compared the performance of 56 Dutch–English bilinguals to that of 1011 English L1 speakers on 420 English six-letter words. In line with previous research, the differences in the word frequency effect between word processing in L1 and in L2 became vanishingly small once vocabulary size was entered as a predictor. Only in a diffusion model analysis did we find some evidence that the information build-up may be slower in L1 than in L2, independent of vocabulary size. We further report effects of cognates, age-of-acquisition, and neighborhood size that can also be explained in terms of differences in exposure.
Many studies on bilingual language processing have shown that lexical access is
not selective with respect to language. These studies typically used nouns as
word stimuli. The aim of the present study was to extend the previous findings
on noun processing to verb processing. In the first experiment, Dutch-English
bilinguals performed a lexical decision task in their second language and were
faster to recognize cognate verbs (e.g., Dutch-English
geven-give) presented out of context than control words. This
verb cognate facilitation effect was not modulated by verb tense. In a second
experiment, cognates and controls were presented in sentence contexts while eye
movements were recorded. In contrast to the strong cognate facilitation effects
on early and later reading time measures for nouns found in earlier studies,
cognate facilitation was only observed on a later reading time measure (i.e.,
go-past time). An interpretation of the results within current models of
bilingual language processing and lexical organization is provided.
This chapter discusses the interactions between two of the most important human cognitive functions: memory and language. First, the concept of working memory is introduced, along with a brief summary of the evolutions that working memory theory has undergone in the last decades. The second part of the chapter focuses on the role of (verbal) working memory in language acquisition and processing. It is argued that working memory, and especially the ability to temporarily represent serial-order information, is crucially involved in both native and foreign word learning, and perhaps also in sentence and text comprehension. The third and final part of the chapter explores the other direction of the interaction, by questioning whether language processing can influence working memory functioning. This question is addressed with recent behavioral and neurological evidence for a general executive control advantage in bilinguals, which makes a strong case for the trainability of some aspects of working memory.
In this reply to Kroll, Van Hell, Tokowicz and Green (this issue) we present an analysis of the citations made to the Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM). This gives us a quantitative summary of the current use of the RHM, showing that RHM has been used equally often to guide research in word recognition as in word production. We also question the claim that Brysbaert and Duyck's (this issue) focus on word recognition leaves RHM unscathed for the explanation of word production and the interactions between lexical and conceptual representations. For these research topics too, we feel that more progress will be made by adapting computational monolingual models to the bilingual situation rather than by trying to understand the findings from the RHM framework.
The Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM) of bilingual language processing dominates current thinking on bilingual language processing. Recently, basic tenets of the model have been called into question. First, there is little evidence for separate lexicons. Second, there is little evidence for language selective access. Third, the inclusion of excitatory connections between translation equivalents at the lexical level is likely to impede word recognition. Fourth, the connections between L2 words and their meanings are stronger than proposed in RHM. And finally, there is good evidence to make a distinction between language-dependent and language-independent semantic features. It is argued that the Revised Hierarchical Model cannot easily be adapted to incorporate these challenges and that a more fruitful way forward is to start from existing computational models of monolingual language processing and see how they can be adapted for bilingual input and output, as has been done in the Bilingual Interactive Activation model.
We examine the use of film subtitles as an approximation of word frequencies in human interactions. Because subtitle files are widely available on the Internet, they may present a fast and easy way to obtain word frequency measures in language registers other than text writing. We compiled a corpus of 52 million French words, coming from a variety of films. Frequency measures based on this corpus compared well to other spoken and written frequency measures, and explained variance in lexical decision times in addition to what is accounted for by the available French written frequency measures.