Prior knowledge predicts early consolidation in second language learning

Dafna Ben Zion, Michael Nevat, Anat Prior, Tali Bitan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Language learning occurs in distinct phases. Whereas some improvement is evident during training, offline memory consolidation processes that take place after the end of training play an important role in learning of linguistic information. The timing of offline consolidation is thought to depend on the type of task, with generalization of implicit knowledge suggested to take more time and sleep to consolidate. The current study aims to investigate individual differences in the timing of consolidation following learning of morphological inflections in a novel language in typical adults. Participants learned to make plural inflections in an artificial language, where inflection was based on morphophonological regularities. Participants were trained in the evening, and consolidation was measured after two intervals: 12 h (one night) and 36 h (two nights) post training. We measured both inflection of trained items, which may rely on item-specific learning, and generalization to new untrained items, which requires extraction of morpho-phonological regularities. The results for both trained and un-trained items showed two patterns of consolidation: early versus late, that is while some participants improved during the first night, others, who deteriorated in performance during the first night, improved in the later consolidation interval. Importantly, phonological awareness in L1 predicted early consolidation for trained items. Furthermore, there was no association between participants’ consolidation trajectory in trained and untrained items. Our results suggest that consolidation timing depends on the interaction between task characteristics and individual abilities. Moreover, the results show that prior meta-linguistic knowledge predicts the quality of early consolidation processes. These results are consistent with studies in rodents and humans, showing that prior knowledge accelerates consolidation of newly learnt episodic memory. Finally, the rate of consolidation across exposures to the language might explain some of the variability found in the attained level of second language proficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2312
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberOCT
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute for Neurobiology in Israel (NiPi), grant no. 208-11-12 and the Israel Science Foundation grant no. 1052/16 to TB.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Ben Zion, Nevat, Prior and Bitan.


  • Consolidation
  • Individual differences
  • Learning
  • Morphology
  • Second language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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