Semantic Categories and Context in L2 Vocabulary Learning


  • This research was supported by a Major Collaborative Research Initiative Grant from SSHRC to Gary Libben (Director), Gonia Jarema, Eva Kehayia, Bruce Derwing, and Lori Buchanan, as well as a “Support for the Advancement of Scholarship” grant to Gabriela C. Zapata from the Endowment Fund for the Future at the University of Alberta. We would like to thank Ryan Taylor for his help in the preparation of the eye-tracking experiment. Finally, we would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers who reviewed the first version of this article for their insightful suggestions.

concerning this article should be addressed to Patrick A. Bolger, Department of Linguistics, 4–32 Assiniboia Hall, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2E7. Internet:; or Gabriela C. Zapata, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, 200 Arts, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2E6. Internet:


This article extends recent findings that presenting semantically related vocabulary simultaneously inhibits learning. It does so by adding story contexts. Participants learned 32 new labels for known concepts from four different semantic categories in stories that were either semantically related (one category per story) or semantically unrelated (four categories per story). They then completed a semantic-categorization task, followed by a stimulus-match verification task in an eye-tracker. Results suggest that there may be a slight learning advantage in the semantically unrelated condition. However, our findings are better interpreted in terms of how learning occurred and how vocabulary was processed afterward. Additionally, our results suggest that contextual support from the stories may have surmounted much of the disadvantage attributed to semantic relatedness.