Foreign Language Learning: Psycholinguistic Studies on Training and Retention

Foreign Language Learning: Psycholinguistic Studies on Training and Retention

Foreign Language Learning: Psycholinguistic Studies on Training and Retention

Foreign Language Learning: Psycholinguistic Studies on Training and Retention


Based on a research project funded by the Army Research Institute, Foreign Language Learning reports original empirical and theoretical research on foreign language acquisition and makes recommendations about applications to foreign language instruction. The ultimate goal of this project was to identify a set of psychological principles that can provide the foundation for--or at least, argumentation for--a foreign language training course. This book reviews the various studies of which the project is comprised. It begins with an overview chapter outlining the scope of the project and summarizing some of the experiments that were conducted in the laboratory. In each of the following chapters, the contributors report on previously unpublished research on selected specific psycholinguistic training principles; vocabulary and concept acquisition; language comprehension; reading processes; and bilingualism. The final chapter--prepared by a prominent expert on second language training--provides an overview and evaluation of the contribution of the research described in earlier chapters to the goal of improving instructional methods in foreign language learning.

Sandwiched between the introductory and final chapters are four major sections:

Vocabulary and Concept Acquisition, which discusses the effect of first-language phonological configuration on lexical acquisition in a second language, contextual inference effects in foreign language vocabulary acquisition and retention, mediated processes in foreign language vocabulary acquisition and retention, and the status of the count-mass distinction in a mental grammar;

Language Comprehension, which addresses voice communication between air traffic controllers and pilots who are nonnative speakers of English, cognitive strategies in discourse processing, and the effects of context and word order in Maasai sentence production and comprehension;

Reading Processes, which discusses the enhancement of text comprehension through highlighting, the effect of alphabet and fluency on unitization processes in reading, and reading proficiency of bilinguals in their first and second languages; and

Bilingualism, which addresses Stroop interference effects in bilinguals between similar and dissimilar languages, the individual differences in second language proficiency, and the hierarchical model of bilingual representation.


Our research on the long-term retention of knowledge and skills was supported by the Army Research Institute (ARI, contracts MDA903-86-K-0155 and MDA903-90-K-0066) from 1986 to 1993. Subsequently, we published an overview of that research in an edited book (Healy & Bourne, 1995). While we were finishing the retention project, George Lawton, our project monitor at ARI, asked us to focus our work specifically on issues related to foreign language learning and retention. We were stimulated by his request to write a new proposal, entitled "Towards the improvement of training in foreign languages," which was funded for 3 years starting August 2, 1993 (contract MDA903-93-K-0010). The goal of the language project was to identify a set of psychological principles that would provide a foundation for a foreign language training course. That project has now been completed, and because our earlier volume was well received both by the ARI and by our colleagues (Maylor, 1997; Widner, 1997), we decided to prepare another book to summarize our progress on the language project.

Over the years, we have benefited from collaboration with a long list of researchers who are not included among the contributors to this volume but who nonetheless had significant impacts on the research reported here. These investigators include recent postdoctoral associates, students at the University of Colorado, visitors from other universities, and former students now at other universities. The recent postdoctoral associates in our laboratory include Cheri King, Bill Oliver, Larry Pinneo, and Rod Smith; the graduate students include Rob Bartsch, Anita Bowles, Angela Brega, Julia Fisher . . .

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