Previous research has shown that young children are able to learn words in a foreign language (e.g., Koenig & Woodward, 2012). Among children learning words in a foreign language, familiarity with objects (Sera et al., 2014) and L1 vocabulary (Koenig & Woodward, 2012) are related to foreign word learning. Among children learning words in their first language, knowledge of object functions is related to children's learning of and memory for object labels (Kemler Nelson et al., 2008; Booth, 2009; 2015), as well as object categorization and generalization (Graham et al., 2012; 2013; Twomey et al., 2014). In the present work, I examined the relative contributions of children's experience with novel objects, knowledge of object labels in their first language, and their knowledge of those objects' functions on their ability to learn foreign words for those objects and generalize those foreign words to other exemplars of the object categories. In Study 1, 52 monolingual English-speaking two- and three-year-old children were trained with novel objects on L1 labels or speaker preferences, or received no training. All three groups then learned Spanish labels for the novel objects. I measured children's initial learning of the foreign labels as well as their long-term retention. I found that children who had previous experience with the novel objects, whether or not they learned words in L1, learned and remembered foreign words better than children who had no experience with the objects. In study 2, 96 monolingual English-speaking two- and three-year-old children were trained with novel objects on L1 labels, object functions, or both, before learning foreign words for the objects. I measured children's learning of foreign words and their willingness to generalize those words across object categories. I found that children in all conditions learned foreign words, but did not generalize those words. Additionally, I found some evidence that learning English labels benefitted children's foreign word learning and generalization.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2015. Major: Child Psychology. Advisor: Melissa Koenig. 1 computer file (PDF); 78 pages.
Effects of first-language training on second-language word learning: Roles of conceptual and lexical knowledge.
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