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Volume 19 Number 1, Spring 2022, Pages 1-397   

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Paired-Associate Second Language Vocabulary Learning: The Role of L1 Translation Familiarity

    Hanzhong Sun & Shaohua Fang

First language (L1) use has always been a subject of debate in second language (L2) vocabulary learning, generating two main research lines. The first line concerns whether L1 use is advisable, and the second relates to how its use can be more beneficial. The current study contributes to the latter strand by probing the effect L1 familiarity had on L2 vocabulary gains using paired-associate learning paradigm. Two groups of English as a foreign language (EFL) learners with comparable L2 proficiency were recruited to learn three L2 word sets varying in L1 familiarity status (high/low), and accordingly three conditions were created (High: all L2 words with high L1 familiarity; Low: all low; Mixed: half high and half low). In the treatment session, both groups of participants studied each set separately, while made aware of, and then completing one of the two tests differing in depth of processing (either meaning recognition or meaning recall). At the testing phase, an unannounced one-week delayed posttest which measured meaning recognition was administered to both groups to examine the retention of vocabulary knowledge. The results showed that similar patterns were observed across two groups, such that High displayed an advantage over Low and Mixed did not exhibit striking differences compared to High. Additionally, recall group outperformed recognition group on all word sets. Therefore, our findings offer direct experimental support to the principle of learning burden (Nation, 1990, 2013), and highlight both the importance and the complexity of L1 familiarity. We conclude with pedagogical implications in relation to those findings.

Keywords: L1 familiarity effect, paired-associate learning, recognition and recall, form-meaning connection, depth of processing

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