L2 word recognition in late bilinguals: impact of modality and transfer effects

Casalis, S. . , Cornut, C. & Mahé, G.

Univ Lille, CNRS CHU Lille UMR9391 Sciences Cognitives et Sciences Affectives, F 59000 Lille France

Learning an L2 in a school context is characterized by a low level of exposure and the prominence of written documents. Reading a new word in L2, especially when the level of proficiency is low, might involve activation of L1 grapheme to phoneme correspondences (GPC) - or wrong GPCs when they are numerous as it is the case in the English orthography. Reciprocally, learning a new L2 word while listening does not guarantee any orthographic knowledge. Additionally, the degree of formal overlap in cognate words is much stronger in written than in spoken modality. The aim of the study is to test the impact of modality on L2 word recognition and connection between modalities. Sixty five French students including normal readers and dyslexic readers were tested in English word recognition in both auditory and written modalities within a repeated design. Half of participants performed the lexical decision task in the visual modality first, half in the auditory modality first. We designed two experiments, with (Study 1) and without (Study 2) cognate words. In both studies there was a clear effect of modality, correct word recognition being stronger in the written modality. No transfer effect (impact of the first test on the second one) was apparent in Study 1, whatever the modality tested in first position. By contrast, we found a positive transfer effect from written to spoken modality in study 2. These results clearly indicate that word recognition is modality-dependant in L2 learning.