How Second Language Learning is Helped and Hurt by Native Language Similarity

AbstractMany learners start learning easy words in a second language (L2) that look like their native language (L1) to jumpstart their vocabulary. However, this approach may not be the most effective long-term strategy, compared to introducing difficult L2 vocabulary early on. We taught English monolinguals either an Englishlike or Non-Englishlike artificial language containing repeated patterns. We found a positive effect of L2 similarity: learning an L2 word facilitated learning other L2 words with the same pattern later. In addition, L2-similarity interacted with L1-similarity: Englishlike words were initially easy to learn, but were less effective at influencing later word learning. The beneficial early effect of L1-similarity may hinder long-term learning by decreasing recognition of repeated L2 patterns. This surprising finding demonstrates that making learning easier may not be the most effective long-term strategy. We suggest that some difficulties during learning should not be avoided, as the effort can pay later dividends.

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