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Testing the reminding account of the lag effect in L2 vocabulary learning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2021

Natalie G. Koval*
Department of Linguistics and Languages, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA Email:


Research has produced mixed findings regarding the effects of spacing L2 study. In order to know how this potentially very powerful learning tool can be useful, it is important to understand the cognitive mechanisms that drive the effects in L2 learning and how the operation of these mechanisms may be affected by variables relevant for SLA contexts. In this study, I examine the contribution of the dual mechanism of successful effortful retrieval during study to the lag effect in foreign vocabulary learning from L2-L1 retrieval practice. I additionally investigate the effects of feedback study time on the operation of the two cognitive mechanisms under investigation. Native speakers of English studied Finnish vocabulary during L2-L1 retrieval practice in paired-associate learning while their response latencies and accuracy were recorded. Results suggest that: (a) successful effortful retrieval underlies benefits of spacing L2-L1 retrieval practice: even with immediate feedback study, the benefits of effort are conditional on retrieval success; (b) successful retrieval is more beneficial than unsuccessful retrieval, contrary to proposals where this was not directly tested; and (c) imposing longer study time externally has little benefit, unlike what has been previously found with learner-regulated longer study time. Implications for L2 learning and teaching are discussed.

Original Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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