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Cross-Language Priming of Word Meaning During Second Language Sentence Comprehension


  • We would like to thank Cheng-Hua Kerr for her generous help in recruiting participants.

concerning this article should be addressed to Dan Woltz, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Utah, 1705 E. Campus Center Dr., Rm 327, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. Internet:


The experiment investigated the benefit to second language (L2) sentence comprehension of priming word meanings with brief visual exposure to first language (L1) translation equivalents. Native English speakers learning Mandarin evaluated the validity of aurally presented Mandarin sentences. For selected words in half of the sentences there was synchronized visual exposure for 100 ms of English translation equivalents. This reduced response times relative to sentences without L1 word exposure, and exposure of translation equivalents for an early word in a sentence was instrumental in reducing comprehension errors. Results are discussed with respect to (a) the unique demands on working memory of L2 speech comprehension, (b) the meaning first and sentence location principles of attention allocation in L2 comprehension, and (c) the potential utility of cross-language meaning activation to reduce the frequency of cognitive overload during L2 listening and thereby facilitate the acquisition of a broader range of L2 comprehension skills.