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Bilingual correspondences and the acquisition of cognates through oral input

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Session régulière / Regular Session
11:45 AM, Mardi 21 Mai 2019 (40 minutes)

Bilingual correspondences and the acquisition of cognates through oral input

Recent work in SLA and bilingualism has shown that the development of a bilingual lexicon involves not only mediation between lexical systems of the two languages (Kroll et al., 2010), but also knowledge regarding how lexical forms correspond. Vanhove, (2016) provided evidence that, through exposure to German-Dutch cognates, learners could extract orthographic correspondences between German and Dutch, such as the frequent correspondence between German and Dutch (German Bruder, Dutch broeder). This study examines cognate correspondences among L1 English, L2 Spanish classroom learners and expands the current research by investigating correspondences in oral contexts. In particular, this study examines whether learners who hear Spanish cognate forms can more accurately recall and produce these forms if they contain a cognate correspondence (ex: Spanish and English : agente-agente, viaje-voyage).

Participants were 24 L1 English, L2 Spanish learners enrolled in upper-division Spanish courses at a Midwestern university. They learned the novel English names of 20 monsters through oral input only. Afterward, they underwent a Spanish training phase, in which they saw each monster’s image and heard its name once in both English and Spanish. Then, they saw the image, heard only the English form, and were asked to recall the Spanish name of the monster. This training-testing sequence was repeated for 10 rounds, allowing an analysis of accuracy and the number of exposures to the Spanish form. Control items consisted of cognate pairs with the same phonetic similarity, but not containing frequent correspondences.

Analysis revealed that accuracy was higher for items containing frequent correspondences across all testing rounds. In oral comprehension, cognate processing for L2 learners involves not only phonetic similarity between the L2 forms and potential L1 cognates, but rather systematic knowledge regarding how L1 and L2 forms are likely to differ. Further analysis revealed that, despite the strictly oral nature of the task, learners accessed orthographic knowledge to recognize and learn the cognate forms.

Because cognate correspondence knowledge develops with proficiency, educators must be aware that cognate comprehension will not be equal across learners of all levels and may choose to encourage cognate recognition skills through classroom activities that emphasize the oral comprehension of cognates and direct students’ attention to the patterns of sound correspondences. Educators and students should also be cautious of materials providing lists of identical or nearly identical English-Spanish cognates, such as angel (Spanish [ˈanxel]- English [eɪnd͡ʒl̩]), which demonstrate high orthographic overlap but little phonetic overlap.

Sarah O'Neill


Kathleen Brannen


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