The Effects of Bilingualism, Modality, and Concreteness in Foreign Language Vocabulary Learning

Naoko Tsuboi, University of Texas at El Paso


The present study investigated claims in previous research that bilinguals may have an advantage over monolinguals in learning vocabulary in an unfamiliar language, but only if learning through the more proficient language. The present study examined whether bilingual adults learn new language vocabulary more efficiently than monolingual adults and whether language dominance or proficiency impacts associative memory performance. English monolinguals (n = 48), English-Spanish bilinguals (n = 48), and Spanish-English bilinguals (n = 48) learned Japanese words paired with English translations and completed cued-recall and associative-recognition tests. In contrast to previous research, there was no bilingual advantage in learning new vocabulary, and there was no effect of language dominance. Nevertheless, English proficiency (but not Spanish proficiency) affected bilingual memory performance. As expected, concrete words were remembered more accurately than abstract words, and visual study let to more accurate memory than auditory study. The effects of word concreteness and learning modality did not vary across language groups or degree of proficiency. The findings suggest that bilingualism does not facilitate learning new language vocabulary in adults, but higher proficiency in the language bilinguals use to learn facilitates associative-memory performance.

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Recommended Citation

Tsuboi, Naoko, "The Effects of Bilingualism, Modality, and Concreteness in Foreign Language Vocabulary Learning" (2019). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI27671253.