How new L2 words (don't) become memories: Lexicalization in advanced L1 Dutch learners of L2 English as part of a longitudinal study

Keijzer, M., Sep-2016.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic

It is an undisputed fact that learning – and remembering – new words is key in successful second language acquisition. And yet researching how vocabulary acquisition takes place is one of the most difficult endeavors in second language acquisition. We can test how many L2 words a learner knows, but do not know how these items were actually acquired (Cook, 2012). From L1 learning, we know that sounds can be “fast mapped” to meanings: in less than 14 minutes of passive listening to new words, neural response patterns emerge that mirror responses triggered by existing words (Shtyrov et al., 2010). The work by Gareth Gaskell and colleagues (cf. Gaskell & Dumay, 2003) has shown, however, that such rapidly formed word memories are subserved by distinct neural substrates. Only after a post-learning consolidation period, typically involving one night’s sleep, are novel words fully integrated into the existing lexicon. The most convincing evidence for this lexicalization process stems from new words competing with their lexical neighbors after the consolidation period, witnessed in longer response latencies to existing words similar in form (see also Bakker et al., 2014). It has been suggested that the speed of lexicalization depends on how many languages a person knows (Bakker et al., 2014). And yet, the question if this consolidation period works similarly in second language learners has not yet been directly investigated. This paper reports an L2 word learning and consolidation study that uses Gaskell & Dumay’s (2003) design and nonsense word list, but applies it to English university majors (whose L1 is Dutch). Two experiments are reported: in the first 37 students were tested over the course of one week, similar to what had been done in Gaskell & Dumay (2003). The increase in response latencies to existing words in a lexical decision task was not duplicated. In a follow-up experiment we further explored whether the L1 vs. L2 word learning was a qualitative difference or whether L2 learners simply need more time. We tested 23 (different) English major university students and tracked them over the course of two months with weekly test sessions. This latter experiment is ongoing. The full results will be discussed during the conference. Collectively, these outcomes pertain to L2 theorizing on how vocabulary is acquired and stored.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sep-2016
EventConference on Multilingualism 2016 - University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium
Duration: 11-Sep-201613-Sep-2016


ConferenceConference on Multilingualism 2016
Abbreviated titleCOM2016


Conference on Multilingualism 2016


Ghent, Belgium

Event: Conference


  • bilingualism, advanced L2 learning, lexicalization

ID: 37262257