Together or apart: Learning of translation-ambiguous words

Tamar Degani, Alison M. Tseng, Natasha Tokowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a multiple-session training study, native English speakers learned foreign Dutch vocabulary items that mapped to English either in a one-to-one way (translation-unambiguous) or in a one-to-many way (translation-ambiguous), such that two Dutch words corresponded to a single English translation. Critically, these two translation-ambiguous Dutch words were taught on consecutive trials in the same session, or were presented separately, such that each word was taught in a separate session. Translation-ambiguous words were produced and recognized substantially less accurately than translation-unambiguous words on tests administered one and three weeks after training. An ambiguity advantage emerged, however, in a free-recall test. Interestingly, teaching both translations together led to superior performance over teaching them in separate sessions, in which case the translation learned first enjoyed a considerable advantage over that learned second. These findings underscore the importance of order of acquisition in second-language vocabulary learning, and have practical implications for language instruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-765
Number of pages17
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by NSF-BCS 0745372 and a Language Learning Grant awarded to NT. During the writing of this manuscript, TD was supported by EU_FP7 grant CIG-322016 and NT was supported by PSI2009-12616 Procesamiento Léxico y Sintáctico en la Adquisición de Segundas Lenguas awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Cambridge University Press.


  • foreign vocabulary learning
  • order of acquisition
  • translation ambiguity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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