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We tested the predictions of the Revised Hierarchical Model (Kroll & Stewart, 1994) to examine how children map novel words to concepts during early stages of L2 learning. Fifth grade Dutch L2 learners with 8 months of English instruction performed a translation recognition task followed by translation production in both directions. The children were already sensitive to L2 word meaning in translation recognition, showing longer RTs and lower accuracies for semantically related than semantically unrelated word pairs. In translation production, they were faster in backward than forward direction as predicted by the RHM. Critically, these children had learned L2 words in contexts enriched by pictures and listening/speaking exercises. Depending on the task, Dutch beginning L2 learners exploit conceptual information during L2 processing and map L2 word-forms to concepts. This study also contributes to accumulating evidence that manner of L2 instruction may majorly impact the activation of lexical and conceptual information during translation.
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Accessing word meaning in beginning second language learners: Lexical
or conceptual mediation?
GREGORY J. POARCH, JANET G. VAN HELL and JUDITH F. KROLL
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition / FirstView Article / October 2014, pp 1 - 15
DOI: 10.1017/S1366728914000558, Published online: 28 October 2014
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S1366728914000558
How to cite this article:
GREGORY J. POARCH, JANET G. VAN HELL and JUDITH F. KROLL Accessing word meaning in beginning second
language learners: Lexical or conceptual mediation?. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Available on CJO 2014
doi:10.1017/S1366728914000558
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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition: page 1 of 15 C
Cambridge University Press 2014 doi:10.1017/S1366728914000558
Accessing word meaning in
beginning second language
learners: Lexical or conceptual
mediation?
GREGORY J. POARCH
University of Tübingen, Germany
Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands
JANET G. VAN HELL
The Pennsylvania State University, USA
Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands
JUDITH F. KROLL
The Pennsylvania State University, USA
(Received: July 25, 2013; final revision received: July 24, 2014; accepted: August 11, 2014)
We tested the predictions of the Revised Hierarchical Model (Kroll & Stewart, 1994) to examine how children map novel
words to concepts during early stages of L2 learning. Fifth grade Dutch L2 learners with 8 months of English instruction
performed a translation recognition task followed by translation production in both directions. The children were already
sensitive to L2 word meaning in translation recognition, showing longer RTs and lower accuracies for semantically related
than semantically unrelated word pairs. In translation production, they were faster in backward than forward direction as
predicted by the RHM. Critically, these children had learned L2 words in contexts enriched by pictures and
listening/speaking exercises. Depending on the task, Dutch beginning L2 learners exploit conceptual information during L2
processing and map L2 word-forms to concepts. This study also contributes to accumulating evidence that manner of L2
instruction may majorly impact the activation of lexical and conceptual information during translation.
In the Netherlands, as in most countries of the world,
children are taught a foreign language through classroom
instruction at school. One focus in such instruction is to
continuously enhance the students’ vocabulary, a feat that
second language (L2) learners master with varying speed
and success. One much addressed issue in research on
second language learning has been how learners integrate
novel words in the L2 into their mental lexicon and
particularly whether lexical access to these words follows
a route via the first language, L1 (Kroll & Stewart, 1994;
Talamas, Kroll & Dufour, 1999) or whether the conceptual
system can be directly accessed (Altarriba & Mathis,
1997; Finkbeiner & Nicol, 2003).
How then are associative links laid between the first and
second language in speakers learning a second language
and how is meaning linked to words in a second language?
Previous work in this research domain has focused mainly
on adult L2 learners and bilinguals (for recent reviews and
debate, see Brysbaert & Duyck, 2010; Kroll, Van Hell,
Tokowicz & Green, 2010; Van Hell & Kroll, 2013). The
present study examined children in the early stages of L2
learning. More specifically, we studied L2 word form to
concept mappings in child classroom L2 learners in two
paradigms previously used in research with adult L2 learn-
The writing of this paper was supported by DAAD Grant D/09/50588
to Gregory J. Poarch, NSF Grants BCS-0955090 and OISE-0968369
to Judith F. Kroll and Janet G. van Hell, NSF Grant BCS-1349110 to
Janet G. van Hell, and NIH Grant HD053146 to Judith F. Kroll. We
thank Linde Mannie and Evie van Heeswijk for their assistance in the
data collection.
Address for correspondence:
Gregory J. Poarch, Department of English Linguistics, University of Tübingen, Wilhelmstr. 50, 72074 Tübingen, Germany
g.poarch@gmx.net
ers and bilinguals: translation recognition (Experiment 1)
and translation production (Experiment 2).
Combining two models of word-to-concept mapping,
the word association model and the concept mediation
model originally proposed by Potter, So, Von Eckhardt,
and Feldman (1984), Kroll and Stewart (1994) developed
the Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM) to account for the
developmental changes evident during the early stages
of L2 acquisition (see Figure 1). The RHM described
how L2 words are linked to L1 words and concepts
and proposed that initially during L2 processing the
L1 translation equivalent is exploited to mediate access
to meaning, whereas at later stages of L2 development
direct conceptual access from the L2 word form becomes
possible (for reviews, see, e.g., Kroll & Tokowicz, 2005;
Krolletal.,2010).
Two tasks commonly used to test the predictions by
the RHM are the translation recognition and translation
production tasks. To explore the developmental changes
in L2 word-to-concept mappings, Talamas et al. (1999)
compared beginning and more advanced adult L2 learners
on a translation recognition task. Two words were
presented to the learners, who had to decide whether
the second word was the first word’s translation or not.
The critical stimuli were incorrect translation pairs of
which the second word was either related to the correct
translation in lexical form (e.g., GARLIC-OJO ´eye´,
instead of GARLIC-AJO as in the correct translation), or
in meaning (GARLIC-CEBOLLA ´onion´). The results
showed that beginning L2 learners were influenced more
by word form and less by its meaning. The more
2Gregory J. Poarch, Janet G. van Hell and Judith F. Kroll
L1 L2
concepts
conceptual
links
conceptual
links
lexical
links
Figure 1. The Revised Hierarchical Model (adapted from
Kroll & Stewart, 1994)
advanced L2 learners, however, demonstrated a larger
semantic interference effect, suggesting that they were
more sensitive to a word’s meaning. This pattern was taken
as support for the RHM in that beginning L2 learners
used the lexical mediation route in contrast to advanced
L2 learners who used the conceptual mediation route,
making the form of words irrelevant and rendering no
influence on the translation task. Ferré, Sánchez-Casas
and Guasch (2006) used orthographically related and
semantically related conditions in a translation recognition
task with early and late L2 learners of low and high
proficiencies. The highly-proficient speakers were above
all influenced by closely semantically related stimuli,
while the low-proficiency speakers were more sensitive
to orthographically related stimuli. These results, again,
were in line with the RHM. Recent ERP evidence by Guo,
Misra, Tam and Kroll (2012), however, indicates that even
relatively proficient bilinguals show patterns of activation
in some contexts indicative of both lexical and conceptual
mediation (see also review by Van Hell & Kroll, 2013).
The predictions made by the RHM have not
always been borne out in past research. Altarriba and
Mathis (1997) were interested in whether beginning L2
learners chiefly used the lexical link during translation
without directly activating the concept. For this purpose,
English learners of Spanish were taught a number of
Spanish words, and were then tested in two translation
recognition tasks. Their performance was compared to
that of proficient English–Spanish bilinguals. Spanish–
English word pairs were shown, some of which were
incorrect translations. In these pairs the second word
was orthographically similar to the correct translation
equivalent (Experiment 1a) or the second word was
semantically related to the correct translation equivalent
(Experiment 1b). Both groups of participants showed
longer reaction times for incorrect form-related word pairs
than for unrelated stimuli, indicating lexical interference.
A semantic interference effect was also found for both
groups of participants, albeit more strongly in the fluent
L2 speakers. Critically, the beginning L2 learners also
activated semantic information when translating from L2
to L1, even though they had followed only one training
session. These results were interpreted as evidence against
the RHM, although Talamas and colleagues (Talamas
et al., 1999) pointed out that the performance by the low-
proficient group may have been influenced by a priming
effect through the initial word learning. Sunderman and
Kroll (2006) later obtained similar semantic interference
effects for both less and more proficient groups of speakers
in a translation recognition task, the results of which
suggest that the L2 word-to-concept link may be available
for L2 learners at an earlier point in their L2 acquisition
than previously assumed (and see Dufour & Kroll, 1995,
for similar evidence from a semantic categorization task).
Another task that has been used to explore the
lexical and conceptual connections between a bilingual’s
two languages and the conceptual store is translation
production. Depending on which direction the translation
is performed, forward (L1 to L2) or backward (L2 to
L1), the RHM makes different predictions depending on
relative proficiency in the L2. While forward translation
(L1 to L2) is thought to generally proceed via the
conceptual store, backward translation (L2 to L1) is
assumed to proceed via the direct lexical link to L1 in
low-proficient L2 speakers and via the concept in high-
proficient L2 speakers. Particularly the assumed strong
lexical link between L2 and L1 in low-proficient L2
speakers, and the strong conceptual link between L1 word
form and concept should lead to an asymmetry between
the time required to translate from L2 to L1 and that
from L1 to L2. This asymmetry between translating from
L1 to L2 and vice versa was found in Dutch–English
bilinguals by Kroll and Stewart (1994). These bilinguals,
it was reasoned, accessed the meaning of L2 words
indirectly via the lexical link from L2 to L1, as this was
assumed to be much stronger than the L2 conceptual link.
The authors assumed that more proficient L2 speakers,
in contrast, would have a decreased need to rely on
the L1 translation for L2 processing, as such speakers
inadvertently strengthened the L2 conceptual link by
becoming more fluent in the L2 (see Fig. 1). In time, as
the speaker became more proficient, a gradual shift from
lexical to conceptual mediation would take place; and the
magnitude of the asymmetry should also decrease.
These predictions were supported by the results of a
study by Kroll, Michael, Tokowicz and Dufour (2002)
in which translation and picture-naming tasks were
performed by beginning and proficient L2 learners. In
accordance with the RHM, translation from L2 to L1
was faster in both groups than vice versa, and the
asymmetry between lexical and conceptual mediation
was larger for the beginning L2 learners than the fluent
Accessing word meaning in second language learners 3
L2 speakers. However, De Groot, Dannenburg and Van
Hell (1994), in a study systematically controlling for
word frequency, imageability, and concreteness, found
conceptual mediation during both backward and forward
translation in unbalanced but relatively proficient Dutch–
English bilinguals, with semantic variables having a
higher impact on forward than on backward translation.
These findings led the authors to propose a weaker version
of the asymmetry model by Kroll and Stewart (1994).
Furthermore, in a study by La Heij, Hooglander,
Kerling and Van der Velden (1996) using forward
and backward translation combined with a picture-word
interference component, concept mediation was found for
both translation directions, and backward translation was
slower than forward translation, results that run counter
to those obtained by Kroll and Stewart (1994). As a
possible underlying reason for partially non-converging
results, La Heij and colleagues comment on the varying
nature of stimulus materials and their relative familiarity
for participants in earlier studies and those used in
theirs. While the participants in the La Heij et al. study
had become acquainted with the stimuli beforehand, the
Kroll and Stewart participants had not. Accordingly, in
interpreting these results in contrast to, for example,
those obtained by Kroll and Stewart (1994), it should
be noted that Kroll and Stewart tested bilinguals who
were required to process very low-frequent items, while
the bilinguals in La Heij et al., drawn from a similar
population as the Kroll and Stewart (1994) bilinguals,
were required to process more frequent items. Thus,
frequency differences in stimuli may have contributed to
the differential findings. Finally, the La Heij et al. study
also included a picture prime that may have changed
the way that production was initiated in the translation
task. The semantic processing of the picture may have
induced a semantic strategy that overrode the option of
lexical mediation in the backward direction of translation.
In a recent review, Kroll et al. (2010) also point out
that task contexts (e.g., comprehension vs. production)
and properties of task items (such as high-frequency vs.
low-frequency words) may involve differential processing
loads for participants (see also Kroll & Tokowicz, 2005).
This in turn may have a variable impact on L2 language
processing particularly when this is of a challenging
nature, resulting, for example, in translation asymmetries
(i.e., shorter backward than forward translation times)
even in highly-proficient bilinguals (Van Hell & De Groot,
1998a).
As mentioned above, so far, the reported studies
all focused on adults. Children, in contrast, represent
a group of individuals who are still in the process
of developing their first language and L1 word-to-
concept mappings – thus the relative strength of these
connections may be differently balanced and a new
language may have a different impact on their mappings
(cf., Brenders, Van Hell & Dijkstra, 2011; Poarch &
Van Hell, 2012). The learning contexts for children may
also differentially impact the acquisition of L2 word-
to-concept mappings, with greater reliance on concrete,
perceptually salient meanings for children relative to
adults. Support for this hypothesis was reported by Chen
and Leung (1989) who found that child beginning L2
learners performed differently than adult L2 learners
when L2 picture naming and translation were compared.
While the adult L2 learners were faster at translating than
picture naming, the child L2 learners named pictures
faster than they translated. The authors attributed this
finding to differential L2 learning routes in children (who
use pictures more) in contrast to adults (who use words
more).
More recently, differential outcomes of vocabulary
acquisition based on differing word-learning methods
have also been shown by Tonzar, Lotto and Job (2009),
who had Italian 4th and 8th graders learn words in
German and English and later tested the children on
their retention of words. The results showed that the
picture-based method lead to better performances than
the word-based method, which the authors interpreted
as suggesting a more efficient link between concept
and L2 word for children than that between L1 word
and L2 words. Comesaña, Perea, Piñeiro and Fraga
(2009) had bilingual Spanish–Basque children perform
a translation recognition task, and manipulated the
semantic relationship of stimuli to the correct translation
(Experiment 1). The children made more errors and
were slower in the semantically related condition. In
Experiment 2, monolingual Spanish children performed
the same translation recognition task after being taught
Basque words. Critically, half the children learned the
Basque words through L2-L1 translation pairs, assumed
to develop the L2-to-L1 lexical link, while the other half
learned the L2 words via pictures, assumed to develop
the L2-to-concept link. Only the novice L2 learners who
had learned the L2 words via pictures showed a significant
semantic-interference effect (similar to the fluent bilingual
children in Experiment 1), on the basis of which the
authors concluded that beginning L2 learners can activate
concepts directly, but that this depended on the word
learning method (but see Comesaña, Soares, Sánchez-
Casas & Lima, 2012, for semantic-interference effects in
beginning L2 learners irrespective of learning method).
It thus seems that the developmental aspect of the RHM
could be explored in more detail by focusing on child
L2 learners. The present study employs a combination
of two experimental paradigms, translation recognition
and translation production, to tap into word-to-concept
mappings in children who are in the early stages of
learning a second language. Given the mixed results,
particularly in studies using the translation recognition
task, the theoretical rationale for combining translation
4Gregory J. Poarch, Janet G. van Hell and Judith F. Kroll
recognition and translation production in the present
study was to explore whether or not beginning learners’
performances would be similar in these two tasks, which
in turn could offer valuable insights into evidence of early
word-to-concept mapping as elicited by differing tasks.
The present study
The present study aims to explore language organization
in children who are beginning L2 learners in the early
stages of L2 instruction. We focused on a group of primary
school children aged 10–11 who had received lessons in
English as a second language for around 8 months. After
consultation with the school, all children in the classroom
were tested, in the knowledge that probably not all children
would display sufficient levels of proficiency to yield
reliable data (see also Participants section and Footnote
1). First, a translation recognition task was administered,
in which L2 English words were shown followed either
by correct, incorrect, or incorrect but semantically related
L1 Dutch word equivalents (Experiment 1). Second, the
participants performed a forward (L1 to L2) and backward
(L2 to L1) translation task (Experiment 2). Both tasks have
been used previously to test the variability and sensitivity
to semantic interference in L2 learners and bilinguals,
but to our knowledge this is the first study combining
both tasks in child classroom learners. Similar patterns
for both tasks were expected since the same participants
took part in both experiments.
Predictions
The predictions for the translation recognition task
(Experiment 1) were: if beginning L2 learners are already
able to exploit concept mediation, which means there is
activation of a link between the L2 word form and its
concept, the children would show a semantic-interference
effect for the semantically related stimuli. This would
cause longer reaction times and lower accuracies in
semantically related foils compared to incorrect but
unrelated stimuli.
In the forward and backward translation tasks
(Experiment 2), the RHM predicts an asymmetry in
speed and accuracy for beginning L2 learners, with
backward (L2 into L1) being faster and more accurate
than forward (L1 into L2) translation. According to the
RHM, during backward translation, speakers rely more on
lexical mediation while during forward translation they
rely more on concept mediation. We predict that children
should make more errors overall in the L2 to L1 direction,
given that they will likely bypass activating the concept
and directly access their richer and more extensive L1
lexicon via the lexical link, which in turn offers them a
greater pool from which to simply guess the translation.
In contrast, the children are hypothesized to show more
Tabl e 1 . Means for participants’ age, length of
instruction, language experience, frequency of English
usage, and proficiency measure response times and
accuracy rates.
Mean SD
Age 10.6 0.5
Number of months of L2 English instruction 8.0 0.0
Frequency of playing PC games in English2.9 0.7
Frequency of watching television in English3.5 0.7
Frequency of reading in English1.4 0.5
L2 picture-naming proficiency measure RT
(ms)
1560 266
L2 picture-naming proficiency measure Acc
(%)
37.1 15.1
Note. Frequency ratings follow a 7-point Likert scale (1 =‘never’ to 7 =
‘daily’) / RT =Response times / Acc =Accuracies / SD =standard deviation.
omissions from L1 to L2, as upon reading the L1 word they
will first activate the concept and then subsequently have
to use the concept-to-L2 word conceptual link to access
the L2 word, a link that is assumed to be weaker in the first
place. Since they also have fewer words in the L2 lexicon
to choose from, this should lead to more omissions. In
other words, errors and omission should differ according
to differential sizes of the lexicon and the different routes
involved in forward and backward translation (cf., Van
Hell & De Groot, 2008).
Experiment 1 – L2-L1 translation recognition
Method
Participants
The group consisted of 60 5th grade children (28 girls
and 32 boys, mean age =10.6, SD =0.5), who had
had 1 hour of weekly English lessons for approximately
8 months, using the ‘Real English – Hello World’ method
(Van der Voort & Mol, 1998). None of the children
were dyslexic or spoke any other language than Dutch at
home.
The children were also asked whether and how
frequently they played English-language computer games,
watched English-language television programs, and read
English-language books or comics. They indicated this on
7-point scales (ranging from 1 =never to 7 =daily), the
scores of which were used to assess the extent of exposure
to English outside school lessons. The results are reported
in Tabl e 1 .
In order to measure L2 proficiency, the children
performed an L2 English picture-naming task. For this
task, 80 black-on-white line drawings of common objects
Accessing word meaning in second language learners 5
were chosen (Székely et al., 2004; see Appendix A). The
children were asked to name the objects displayed on
the screen as quickly and as accurately as possible in
English. Each experimental trial began with a fixation
cross being displayed for 1000 ms followed by a picture
presented for 5000 ms or until the participant responded.
Trial lists were created in a pseudo-random order with
the restriction that no more than three items would be
displayed in a row that had an identical initial phoneme.
Trial lists were counterbalanced across participants. For
each participant and each item, mean reaction times and
mean accuracies were calculated. An accuracy threshold
was set at 20%, below which participants were assumed
to have insufficient L2 proficiency to perform the task
at hand and were thus excluded from further analyses.
This led to 47 children entering the final analysis1.The
minimum percentage of correct answers per picture was
30%.
Trials associated with voice-key failures (e.g., mouth
clicks, stutters, false starts; 3.1%) and incorrect responses
were excluded from the RT analysis. Outliers with reaction
times shorter than 200 ms or longer than 2.5 standard
deviations above the participant’s mean (1.3%) were also
excluded. The resulting mean RTs and accuracy scores
are presented in Tabl e 1 .
As 74 of the 80 stimuli for the picture-naming
proficiency task were also used as stimuli in the
translation recognition task in Experiment 1, the tasks
were counterbalanced across participants to avoid priming
effects of having named many of the experimental
stimuli beforehand. This meant that half the children
who performed the translation recognition task did so
after the picture-naming task while the other half did
so before the picture-naming task. To test whether the
order of tasks had any effect on performance in the
translation recognition task, a one-factor ANOVA on the
RTs of the word types (correct and incorrect translations)
used in the translation recognition task was run with
group (participants named pictures before the translation
recognition task or participants named pictures after the
translation recognition task) as the independent measure.
Critically, the analysis yielded no significant main effect
of group and no interaction between word type and group,
Fs (1, 33) <1, ps>.30, indicating no difference in
performance between those children who had named
pictures before and those who had after the translation
recognition task.
1The school that participated in the study requested to include the entire
classes of children in the study for equity reasons. This precludes
any form of pre-screening and a priori exclusion of children from
participating in the experiment. For this reason, children with very
low proficiency scores need to be excluded post hoc.
Materials
For the translation recognition task, 88 sets of four
concrete nouns were created (see Appendix B). The
stimuli were chosen from the textbook Real English (Van
der Voort & Mol, 1998), which was used in the English
language class of the participants. Each set consisted of
one correct translation between English and Dutch (duck –
eend), one semantically related, incorrect translation
(duck – gans [goose]), and one unrelated, incorrect
translation (duck – klant [customer]).
The four groups of stimuli (English prime word, Dutch
correct translation, Dutch semantically related incorrect
translation, Dutch unrelated incorrect translation) were
controlled for word length as measured by number of
syllables (prime: 1.5, SD =0.6; translation: M=1.5,
SD =0.7; semantically related: M=1.5, SD =0.6;
unrelated: M=1.6, SD =0.7), number of letters (prime:
M=5.3, SD =1.6; translation: M=5.2, SD =1.9;
semantically related: M=5.2, SD =1.5; unrelated: M=
5.4, SD =1.6), and word frequency (prime: M=1.6,
SD =0.6; translation: M=1.6, SD =0.6; semantically
related: M=1.5, SD =0.6; unrelated: M=1.6, SD =
0.4; CELEX database, Baayen, Piepenbrock & Van Rijn,
1993). A one-way ANOVA was run to ascertain that there
were no significant differences between the four groups
of words in number of syllables, number of letters, and
frequency, all ps>.20. None of the correct translation
pairs included cognates.
Apparatus and Procedure
The experiment was programmed in E-Prime (Schneider,
Eschman & Zuccolotto, 2002) and conducted on a
Pentium computer. Stimuli were presented using black,
lower-case letters on a white background. Reaction times
were measured using an E-Prime serial response button
box (Schneider, 1995).
The children were tested individually and were seated
in a quiet room approximately 50cm from the monitor.
They were shown 88 word pairs and had to decide as
quickly and as accurately as possible whether or not
the second word (Dutch) was the correct translation
equivalent of the first word (English) by pressing one of
two buttons on a serial response button box. The 88 two-
word pairs were generated randomly from the 88 four word
sets described in the Materials section. This lead to each
child being shown 22 correct translations, 22 semantically
related, incorrect translations, 22 unrelated, incorrect
translations, and 22 correct filler pairs to equalize the
number of correct and incorrect translation responses.
The experiment was designed in 5 blocks, the first of
which being 8 additional practice trials. These practice
trials (8 word pairs not used in the 4 experimental blocks;
2 trials from each of the 4 conditions) were used to
6Gregory J. Poarch, Janet G. van Hell and Judith F. Kroll
familiarize the children with the experimental procedure
and, if necessary, to give them additional instructions
before proceeding. There was an automatic 20-second
pause between each of the four experimental blocks of 22
stimuli each.
The experimental trials were structured as follows. A
fixation sign was displayed in the center of the screen
for 500 ms, followed by a blank screen displayed for
200 ms, followed by a word in L2 English presented
for 300 ms, again followed by a blank screen displayed
for 200 ms, and finally an L1 Dutch word presented for
3000 ms or until the participant responded. Four trial lists
were created in a pseudo-random order with the restriction
being that no more than three items would be displayed
in a row coming from the same condition. The trial lists
were counterbalanced across participants.
Results and Discussion
For each participant and each item, mean reaction times
(RTs) and mean percentage of accuracy were calculated
for the four conditions. RTs below 250 ms and above
2500 ms as well as those exceeding 2.5 SDs above the
mean were treated as outliers and were excluded from
the reaction time analysis. Outliers made up 1.2% (SD
=1.5%) in the translation equivalent condition, 2.3%
(SD =2.7%) in the semantically related condition,
and 2.2% (SD =3.4%) in the unrelated condition. As
participants were performing a binary choice task, there
was a 50% probability of the children giving the right
answer by chance. For this reason and in order to ensure
that the participants included where sufficiently proficient
to generate meaningful data in the task, a sufficiently high
but arbitrary accuracy threshold for all conditions was set
at 60%. Participants with a score below 60% would not
be included in the final analysis. All 47 children entered
the final analysis. The data were then analyzed as follows.
One-factor repeated-measures ANOVAs were per-
formed by participants (F1) and by items (F2) on
mean RTs and accuracy rates, with word type (correct
translation or incorrect translation) serving as the
independent variable. In the participant analyses, word
type was treated as a within-participant variable,
while in the corresponding item analyses, word type
was treated as a within-items factor. To determine
whether semantics influenced the children’s performance,
subsequent ANOVAs on mean RTs and accuracy
rates, with word type (semantically related incorrect
translation or unrelated incorrect translation) serving as
the independent variable, were conducted. The resulting
means and SDs are presented in Tabl e 2 .
The RT analysis yielded a significant effect of word
type, F1 (1, 46) =171.60, MSE =1281211, p<
.001, ηp2=.79; F2 (1, 87) =157.70, MSE =12010,
p<.001, ηp2=.64. A subsequent ANOVA on the
Tabl e 2 . Mean reaction times (in ms) and accuracy rates
(in %) for Experiment 1.
Experiment 1 RT Accuracy
Correct Translation 901 (206) 74.1 (9.8)
Incorrect Translation 1134 (229) 71.9 (14.6)
Semantically related 1181 (270) 65.2 (16.6)
Unrelated 1087 (206) 78.7 (15.1)
Semantic interference effect94 13.5
Note. Standard deviations are in parentheses. RT =Reaction Times.
Semantic interference effect calculated by subtracting the reaction times of the
unrelated stimuli from those of the semantically related stimuli and the accuracies
of the semantically related stimuli from those of the unrelated stimuli.
two word types representing the incorrect translations
(i.e., the semantically related and unrelated word types)
showed that children reacted significantly slower to reject
semantically related stimuli than semantically unrelated
stimuli (semantic interference effect =94 ms), F1 (1, 46)
=19.94, MSE =211625, p<.001, ηp2=.30; F2 (1, 87)
=14.43, MSE =27908, p<.001, ηp2=.14.
The accuracy rates analysis yielded no significant effect
of word type by-participant, F1 (1, 46) <1, p>.1, ηp2
<.10, but did by-item, F2 (1, 87) =3.96, MSE =5, p=
.042, ηp2=.03. The ANOVA including only the critical
semantically related and unrelated word types, however,
showed a semantic interference effect of 13.5%, both by-
participant and by-item, F1 (1, 46) =56.59, MSE =76,
p<.001, ηp2=.55; F2 (1, 87) =21.50, MSE =23, p<
.001, ηp2=.20.
The results obtained in Experiment 1 show that
Dutch beginning L2 learners of English with limited L2
instruction were influenced by the semantic manipulation,
which indicates that these children at an early stage in
their L2 learning are able to access concepts and semantic
information directly from the L2.
To test whether differences in quantity of media
consumption may have had an impact on whether children
performed above or below the proficiency measure
exclusion threshold (20% picture-naming accuracy), t-
tests were conducted comparing self-reported English
media usage (PC games, TV, books) for the 47 included
and 13 excluded children. T-tests yielded no significant
differences in media usage between groups (ps>.20;
PC games: included group =2.9, SD =0.7, excluded
group =3.2, SD =0.7; TV: included group =3.5, SD =
0.7, excluded group =3.4, SD =0.5; books: included
group =1.4, SD =0.5, excluded group =1.3, SD =
0.5). Then, to assess whether media usage may have
affected how much children access meaning during the
translation recognition task, English media usage (PC
games, TV, books) was correlated with performance on
the semantically related word pairs. The analysis yielded
no significant correlations save a marginally significant
Accessing word meaning in second language learners 7
correlation between the frequency of playing English PC
games and the accuracy scores for the semantically related
stimuli, r=.25, p=.089.
Finally, to explore the relationship between L2
proficiency (as measured by performance on the
L2 picture-naming task) and sensitivity to semantic
information, indexed by the magnitude of the semantic
interference effect (performance on semantically related
word pairs minus that on unrelated word pairs),
picture-naming times and accuracy were correlated with
the magnitude of the semantic interference effect in
Experiment 1. The only significant correlation was
between the semantic interference effect indexed by
accuracy and L2 picture-naming times, r=−.26,
N=47, p=.042 (all other ps>1), indicating that
participants who were faster at naming pictures in L2
showed a greater semantic interference effect (albeit only
in the accuracies). In a subsequent correlational analysis
including all 60 children (i.e., also those children excluded
due to poor performance on the L2 proficiency measure),
significant correlations were found between the semantic
interference effect indexed by accuracy and L2 picture-
naming accuracy, r=.24, N =60, p=.035, and the
semantic interference effect indexed by accuracy and L2
picture-naming times, r=−.25, N =60, p=.028. These
results hint at a relationship between growing proficiency
and stronger L2 word-to-concept mappings as indexed by
a greater sensitivity to the semantic interference effect for
individuals with higher L2 proficiencies.
The children’s performance in Experiment 1 indicated
that they were already able to access meaning directly
from the L2 words. If the L2 word-to-concept link in these
children has already become stronger after 8 months of
L2 instruction, then their performance in a translation
production task could be used to test the predictions of
the RHM concerning forward translation and backward
translation. While forward translation was assumed to rely
more on conceptual mediation, backward translation was
assumed to rely more on lexical mediation. To further
explore word-to-concept mapping in these beginning L2
learners, Experiment 2 was run approximately two months
after Experiment 1 with the same group of children using
a forward and backward translation task.
Experiment 2 – Backward and forward translation
Method
Participants
The same children who took part in Experiment 1 also
participated in Experiment 2. To ensure that results
from both experiments could be compared, only the
47 participants who had displayed sufficient L2
proficiency in Experiment 1 and whose data had been
included in the final analyses were also included in
Experiment 2.
Materials
Trial lists of 88 translation pairs between English and
in Dutch were created. The stimuli were identical to the
stimuli used in Experiment 1 (see Appendix C).
Apparatus and Procedure
The experiment was programmed in E-Prime (Schneider
et al., 2002) and run on a Pentium computer. Reaction
times were measured using a microphone that triggered
the voice key of an E-Prime serial response button
box (Schneider, 1995). Children were asked to translate
the word presented on the screen as quickly and as
accurately as possible into the target language, speaking
into the microphone set before them. The experiment was
designed in 5 blocks, the first of which being 8 practice
trials. Then, each of the 4 experimental blocks (22 stimuli
each) was initiated with the press of a button by the
researcher.
Each experimental trial was structured as follows. A
fixation sign was displayed for 1000 ms followed by a
word for 5000 ms or until the participant responded. The
experimenter used the button box to code the participant’s
utterances and the experiment was digitally recorded for
later analysis.
Each child was shown the 88 words in either English
or Dutch, which then needed to be translated into the
other respective language. Half of the children received
the stimuli in L2 English and were asked to translate
into L1 Dutch (backward translation), while the other
half received the stimuli in L1 Dutch and were asked
to translate into L2 English (forward translation). T-tests
verified that the two groups did not differ significantly on
any of the background measures (see Tabl e 3 ;allps>.10).
Trial lists were created in a pseudo-random order with the
restriction being that no more than three items would be
displayed in a row with an identical initial phoneme. Trial
lists and language conditions were counterbalanced across
participants.
Results and Discussion
For each participant and each item, mean RTs and mean
error and omission percentages were calculated for the two
conditions. Responses that were not possible translations
according to Dutch–English/English–Dutch dictionaries
(Martin & Tops, 1984,1986) were considered errors.
An error-omission threshold was set at 60%, above
which participants were not included in the final analysis.
This led to 42 of the 47 children entering the final
analysis (21 participants for the backward translation and
8Gregory J. Poarch, Janet G. van Hell and Judith F. Kroll
Tabl e 3 . English language use and proficiency measures of participants in the forward and
background translation conditions and significance testing p-values for Experiment 2.
FreqPC FreqTV FreqBooks Prof_RT Prof_Acc
Forward translation 2.9 (0.7) 3.5 (0.6) 1.6 (0.5) 1557 (294) 32.7 (13.9)
Backward translation 3.1 (0.5) 3.4 (0.8) 1.3 (0.5) 1518 (261) 37.1 (14.4)
Significance p>.20 p>.50 p>.15 p>.50 p>.30
Note. Standard deviations are in parentheses. FreqPC =frequency PC games played in English / FreqTV =frequency TV watched in English /
FreqBooks =frequency books read in English (7-point Likert scale, 1 =‘never’ to 7 =‘daily’) / Prof_RT =Proficiency Measure Reaction
Times / Prof _Acc =Proficiency Measure Accuracies
Tabl e 4 . Mean response times (in ms), error rates,
omission rates (in %), and significance testing p-values
for Experiment 2.
Experiment 2 RT ER OR
Forward translation 1388 (220) 5.2 (4.3) 24.8 (13.3)
Backward translation 1245 (207) 2.6 (2.9) 37.8 (20.2)
Translation direction 143 2.6 13.0
effect+
Significance p<.04 p<.04 p<.02
Note.RT=Response Times / ER =Error Rates / OR =Omission Rates.
+Translation direction effect is calculated by subtracting RTs, error rates, and
omission rates for backward from forward translation.
21 participants for the forward translation task)2. Finally,
stimuli that were translated above an error-omission
threshold of 60% were also eliminated from further
analyses, which left 60 of 88 stimuli for the final analyses
for both forward and backward translation. Of the 28
excluded items, 23 were identical for both translation
directions.
An omission was scored if the children had not
responded within the 5000 ms allotted for naming after
picture presentation (backward translation =37.8%,
SD =20.2; forward translation =24.8%, SD =
13.2). Trials associated with voice-key failures such as
clicks and false starts (backward translation =3.6%;
forward translation =0.6%) and incorrect responses were
excluded from the RT analysis. Outliers with RTs shorter
than 200 ms or longer than 2.5 SDs above the participant’s
mean (backward translation =1.6%; forward translation
=1.7%) were also excluded from the RT analyses.
One-factor ANOVAs were performed by participants
(F1) and by items (F2) on mean reaction times, on error
rates, and on omission rates, with translation direction
(forward or backward) serving as independent variable.
In the participant analyses, translation direction was
2A re-analysis of the data obtained in Experiment 1 of only those
42 participants who entered the final analysis in Experiment 2 yielded
similar results as that obtained for the 47 participants. All p-values
remained the same.
treated as a between-participants variable, while in the
corresponding item analysis, translation direction was
treated as a between-items factor. The resulting means
and SDs are presented in Tabl e 4 .
The data revealed a significant effect of translation
direction for the latencies analysis, F1 (1, 40) =4.67,
MSE =45827, p=.037, ηp2=.11; F2 (1, 118) =
16.26, MSE =54448, p<.001, ηp2=.12, with backward
translation being 143 ms faster than forward translation,
and for omission rates, F1 (1, 40) =6.04, MSE =291,
p=.018, ηp2=.13; F2 (1, 118) =9.96, MSE =504,
p=.002, ηp2=.08, with 13.0% more omissions in
backward translation than forward translation. In contrast,
the comparatively low error rates yielded a significant
difference in the opposite direction, with 2.6% more errors
in forward translation than in backward translation, F1(1,
40) =5.05, MSE =13, p=.03, ηp2=.11; F2 (1, 118) =
4.81, MSE =38, p=.03, ηp2=.04.
The participants’ performance indicates that trans-
lation direction did have a significant effect, in that
backward translation was performed significantly faster
and with fewer errors than forward translation, while
omission rates were significantly higher for backward
than for forward translation. The translation latency
results suggest that these children rely more on lexical
mediation in the L2 to L1 translation direction and more on
conceptual mediation in the L1 to L2 translation direction,
which in line with the RHM should be evident in speakers
whose L2 is relatively weak (cf. Kroll et al., 2010)3.The
omission results, running counter to those obtained by
Van Hell and De Groot (2008) and to the predictions
made in the Introduction, could be interpreted as resulting
from the children having remained silent instead of
(incorrectly) guessing when they did not know a particular
word when translating from L2 to L1. In contrast, when
3Note that the adult and more proficient Dutch–English bilinguals
tested in Van Hell and De Groot (2008) showed faster translation
times when translating in backward than in forward direction on
the most difficult words (i.e., abstract noncognates), but not on the
easier words (i.e., abstract cognates, concrete noncognates, concrete
noncognates). This suggests that more proficient bilinguals can show
an asymmetrical translation effect, but only for relatively difficult
word s.
Accessing word meaning in second language learners 9
translating from L1 to L2, assuming concept mediation,
more conceptual neighbors may have become active,
possibly offering more L2 word alternatives to choose
from, albeit not necessarily the correct one. Alternatively,
given the strong L1 word form-to-concept mapping, the
correct concept may have been activated but due to a weak
concept-to-L2 word form link, the incorrect L2 word form
may have been retrieved. This could explain the higher
error rates during translation from L1 to L2, and could
be interpreted as a sign of a greater willingness in the
children to guess the L2 word than to remain silent.
Finally, the Potter et al. (1984) predictions, that
beginning L2 learners could either be faster translating
from L1 to L2 than naming a picture in L2 (as predicted
by the word association hypothesis) or that beginning
L2 learners could be faster naming a picture in L2
than when translating from L1 to L2 (as predicted
by the concept mediation hypothesis), were tested. In
other words, task type (L2 picture naming vs. forward
translation) was used to further explore the L2 word-
concept mappings in beginning learners and whether at
these early stages of learning, there is evidence for word
mediation or concept mediation during L2 production.
For this purpose, the picture naming times (Experiment
1; M=1557, SD =294) of only those children who
had performed the forward translation task and their
forward translation production task RTs (Experiment 2;
M=1388, SD =220) were compared. An ANOVA
on the mean naming latencies with task type (forward
translation vs. picture naming) as the independent variable
yielded a significant effect of task type, F(1, 20) =
5.44, MSE =54770, p=.03, ηp2=.21, showing
significantly faster forward translation times than picture-
naming times4. This outcome is in line with the ‘word
mediation’ hypothesis as proposed by Potter et al. (1984)
and corroborates the translation asymmetry in the latency
data in Experiment 2. Alternatively, children may be
slower in retrieving the L2 word of a concept when this
concept is activated by a picture rather than by an L1 word,
as we will elaborate on below.
The results we have reported are similar to those
reported by Kroll and Curley (1988) and Chen and
Leung (1989) for low proficiency adult learners but run
counter to the findings by Chen and Leung who had also
compared L2 picture naming with the L1 to L2 translation
performance of child beginning L2 learners. They showed
that child L2 learners were faster at naming pictures than
when translating (‘concept mediation’), while the adult
L2 learners were faster when translating than at naming
pictures (‘word mediation’), results that the authors
4A subsequent analysis comparing the children’s performance in
picture naming and in forward translation production on only those
60 words that were included in the statistical analyses for Experiment
2 yielded similar results. All p-values remained the same.
assumed to be linked to L1 word decoding difficulties
in the children under study and/or to differing L2 word
learning methods between child and adult learners.
The results obtained with the children in the present
study resemble those of the adults, and not those of
the children, in the Chen and Leung (1989) study. The
diverging results with children may have at its base
the fact that, while the languages under investigation
in the present study, Dutch and English, are alphabetic
languages, the languages in the Chen and Leung study
were Chinese and French, the former a logographic
language. Chen and Leung, who remarked that their
findings with children were unexpected and inconsistent
with any of their hypotheses, interpreted the children’s
performance as driven by their need to use the concept-to-
L2 word link in the early stages of learning caused by their
relatively low proficiency in reading L1 words. In other
words, the L2 word-to-L1 word lexical mediation route
was rendered ineffective during L2 learning and unlikely
to take place by the nature of the L1 in this population.
Thus, the language make-up may have been the underlying
cause for differing results with children.
In addition, Chen and Leung noted that the prominent
learning strategy in child L2 learners in Hong Kong
when learning novel L2 words is via pictures – this
may have added to an early boosting of the concept-
to-L2 word connections, making L2 picture naming in
these children an often-repeated and relatively fast task.
The Dutch child L2 learners, in contrast, while able to
use concept mediation in the translation recognition task
(Experiment 1), in translation production still relied more
on L1 word-to-L2 word lexical mediation during forward
translation (Experiment 2), possibly caused by the fact
that they were less used to primarily naming pictures
in L2 during L2 learning. Hence, forward translation
was lexically mediated from the L1 word form straight
to the L2 word form. When naming pictures, however,
first the L1 word form was accessed, using the well-
developed concept-to-L1 word connection, followed by
access to the L2 word via the word-to-word lexical link.
The less developed direct concept-to-L2 word connection
was thus not exploited yet during translation production.
This suggests that variations in word learning methods
potentially impact the lexical-semantic routes L2 learners
employ during translation tasks, a point we will elaborate
upon in the General Discussion.
General Discussion
This study tested predictions made by the RHM (Kroll &
Stewart, 1994) on the activation of lexical-semantic links
during translation recognition and translation production
particularly when performed by beginning L2 learners.
For this purpose, L1 Dutch 5th graders with 8 months of
10 Gregory J. Poarch, Janet G. van Hell and Judith F. Kroll
English instruction performed a translation recognition
task and a translation production task.
According to the predictions of the RHM, beginning L2
learners are less likely to activate concepts when they have
to translate from L2 to L1, and thus mostly use the lexical
link via L1 to access concepts. For this reason, beginning
L2 learners should be less sensitive to the meaning of a
word in an L2 to L1 translation recognition task than more
advanced L2 speakers. To explore this, incorrect word
pairs in which the second word was semantically related to
the correct translation and incorrect unrelated word pairs
were used. According to the RHM, beginning L2 learners
should process both types of word pairs similarly, yielding
similar naming latencies and accuracies. Contrary to this
prediction, the children were slower and less accurate in
rejecting semantically related word pairs than unrelated
word pairs. This corroborates the findings with adult L2
learners by Sunderman and Kroll (2006), who interpreted
their results by suggesting that even at early stages of
learning L2 learners could exploit L2 word form-to-
concept mappings.
Given these results, we conclude that Dutch beginning
learners of L2 English are able to exploit the L2 conceptual
link and thus activate concepts directly when translating
from L2 into L1. These results also corroborate those
by Comesaña and colleagues (Comesaña et al., 2009,
2012), who found semantic interference effects in child L2
learners and concluded that beginning L2 learners were
able to translate similarly to more advanced L2 learners –
via the conceptual link. The results of these studies qualify
the predictions made by the RHM and run counter to
the results obtained with adult learners by Talamas and
colleagues (Talamas et al., 1999; reaction times only) as
well as Ferré and colleagues (Ferré et al., 2006), who had
found that beginning L2 learners used the lexical link
instead of the conceptual link during translation (but see
Sunderman & Kroll, 2006). We assume that the critical
differences in accounting for the present study’s results
are the participant groups’ ages and the conditions under
which the L2 had been learned. Such effects of conditions
of L2 learning on L2 processing have previously
been shown in adult learners by Sunderman and Kroll
(2006).
In a second experiment, we examined forward
translation (from L1 to L2) and backward translation
(from L2 to L1). Whenever beginning L2 learners need
to translate from L2 to L1 (backward translation), the
RHM predicts that this should be faster and more accurate
than when translating from L1 to L2 (forward translation).
According to the RHM, this asymmetry is most prominent
in beginning L2 learners, as in these individuals there is
a direct link from L2 to L1, but an indirect link from
L1 to L2. Translating from L1 into L2 uses the indirect
link via the concept. To test this asymmetry, we used a
translation production task. The children showed exactly
this asymmetry in translation latencies – they were slower
in forward than in backward translation.
A possible alternative explanation for the translation
production results is that it was more difficult for these
children learning English to produce L2 phonology.
On the basis of the present findings alone, we cannot
determine the contribution of relatively weaker phonology
in the L2 than the L1 to the present results. On the one
hand, if the slower times to translate in the forward than
backward direction of translation was due to difficulty
in producing the L2, then the results across the two
experiments may not be as conflicting as we have
presented them. On the other hand, given that the forward
translation latencies were shorter than those in L2 picture
naming, future research may need to focus on specific
effects of retrieving L2 phonology in picture naming
compared to forward translation.
The translation recognition findings indicate that the
beginning L2 learners can exploit the conceptual link
between L2 word form and concepts, but the results on
the backward translation production task suggest that the
L2 learners may also exploit lexical-level links. Which
route becomes more prominent during translation is likely
related to specific task demands in translation recognition
and translation production. The translation recognition
task is perceptual in nature and no verbal response is
necessary. In the translation production tasks, in contrast,
participants need to actively give a verbal response, which
require the participants to access their lexicon and retrieve
lexical items for production. La Heij et al. (1996), who
had found concept mediation in both translation directions
in their study, assumed that word translation was made
up of two processes: activation of the concept followed
by word retrieval. The difficulty in backward translation,
they reasoned, lay in concept activation, whereas the
difficulty in forward translation lay in L2 word retrieval.
These two processes may have a differential effect on
an L2 learner’s translation performance. In the present
study, L2 word retrieval difficulties may have slowed down
forward translation, whereas difficulties in accessing the
conceptual store in backward translation when unknown
L2 words were presented may have caused the children
to remain silent. This would explain the higher omission
rates in backward translation.
One important finding of the present work is that
already at an early stage, Dutch beginning L2 learners of
English can exploit L2 word form-to-concept mappings
and access the meaning of an L2 word in a direct
way without mediation of the L1 word. This finding
differs from some earlier findings with adult beginning
L2 learners (Talamas et al., 1999; Ferré et al., 2006;
but see Altarriba & Mathis, 1997, and Sunderman &
Kroll, 2006). A possible reason for this finding is that
the children in the present study were taught with an
L2 learning method that fostered L2 word-to-concept
Accessing word meaning in second language learners 11
mapping. The method used in the English lessons of the
children in this study, Real English (Van der Voort & Mol,
1998), focuses most prominently on listening to spoken
English, repeating of spoken English and repeating new
words. It is, incidentally, the method most commonly used
nowadays in Dutch primary schools in the Netherlands
(Periodieke Peiling van het Onderwijsniveau [periodic
poll on education levels], Heesters, Feddema, Van der
Schoot & Hemker, 2008). In this method, much less stress
is placed on translating Dutch words into English via
paired associate learning, which would strengthen L2
word to L1 word form connections, but more on the
integration of L2 words in a meaningful context, which
fosters the development of L2 word form-to-concept
connections.
Moreover, any language in a child’s environment
besides the native language, and particularly the
soon-to-be-learned L2, may have an effect on later
foreign language acquisition. Even though all children
participating in the experiments spoke only Dutch at
home, they grew up in a language environment in which
English is ubiquitous in the media, particularly in the
form of original English-language movies and series being
aired with Dutch subtitles instead of dubbed versions,
a practice that is common in other European countries
such as Germany and Italy. Although our correlational
analysis did not yield a strong relationship between media
exposure and L2 proficiency or magnitude of the semantic
interference effect, Koolstra and Beentjes (1999)–ina
study aimed at exploring the exposure of Dutch children
to L2 English via the media and its impact on building a
basic L2 vocabulary and L2 language learning – showed
that Dutch children who watched a television program
with an English-language soundtrack and Dutch subtitles
had a larger English vocabulary than children who
watched an English-language program without subtitles.
For this reason, fifth-grade Dutch children, when they
start receiving English lessons at school, may actually
be more advanced in their L2 learning than L2 learners
who have never had any exposure prior to learning the
language. This could explain the children’s performance in
the present study in the translation recognition task being
comparable to more advanced L2 learners’ performances
found in earlier studies. Future research may more
systematically study the relation between prior exposure
to English and the development of L2 word-to-concept
mappings.
Finally, future research may also attempt to move
beyond using nouns exclusively (as done by, e.g., Altar riba
& Mathis, 1997; Brenders et al. 2011; Chen & Leung,
1989; Comesaña et al., 2009,2012; De Groot et al.,
1994; Ferré et al., 2006; Finkbeiner & Nicol, 2003;
Guo et al., 2012; Kroll & Curley, 1988; Kroll et al.,
2002; Kroll & Stewart, 1994;LaHeijetal.,1996; Potter
et al., 1984; Sunderman & Kroll, 2006; Talamas et al.,
1999; Tonzar et al., 2009; Van Hell & De Groot, 1998a,
1998b) to test the development of L2 word form-to-
concept mappings and use other word categories such
as, for example, verbs. Nouns and verbs are assumed
to be processed differentially due to differences in their
underlying syntactic and semantic information (e.g.,
Federmeier, Segal, Lombrozo & Kutas, 2000). Recent
research with highly-proficient, adult Dutch–English
bilinguals by Bultena, Dijkstra and Van Hell (2013;2014;
seealsoVanHell&DeGroot,1998b) offers corroborating
evidence that verbs and nouns are processed differently.
Thus, exploring the learning of words from different word
classes, which may follow different paths regarding how
they are integrated into the mental lexicon, may yield
more fine-grained information on the development of
word form-to-concept mappings in L2 learners.
In conclusion, the findings of the present study offer
new insights to the question of how child classroom
L2 learners integrate novel L2 word forms into their
mental lexicon, and how they connect novel L2 words
to concepts and to word forms in the L1. The results
from the translation recognition task, a comprehension
task in which no verbal response is required, show
that even beginning L2 learners activate concepts. With
changed task demands in the translation production task,
however, they rely more on the lexical link and less on the
conceptual link particularly during backward translation.
During backward translation production, after reading the
L2 word, the L1 lexicon needs to be accessed and lexical
items need to be retrieved before production takes place.
Thus, the results obtained indicate that child beginning L2
learners are able to exploit conceptual and lexical links
depending on the contextual task demands, possibly also
influenced by the language learning context (cf., Van Hell
& Kroll, 2013).
12 Gregory J. Poarch, Janet G. van Hell and Judith F. Kroll
Appendix A. List of stimuli used in the L2 picture-naming proficiency measure (Experiment 1)
airplane bucket church ear kite pencil sailor suitcase
arrow butterfly city eye knife pig scarf tail
bag can cloud flower leg pillow shark teeth
basket candle coat frog lion plate shower towel
belt car curtain girl mirror potato skirt tree
bike carrot desk glasses monkey queen smoke turtle
bird chain dog gun mountain rabbit snake umbrella
bottle chair doll horse onion rainbow spoon waiter
boy cheese dress key parrot road stairs window
bridge chicken duck king peanut rope strawberry witch
Appendix B. List of stimuli used in Experiment 1
English Dutch semantically English Dutch semantically
word translation related unrelated word translation related unrelated
airplane vliegtuig lucht brand monkey aap banaan toren
arrow pijl boog boete mountain berg heuvel vinger
aunt tante oom drank newspaper krant journalist buurman
bag tas rugzak gebouw onion ui spek stier
basket mand riet ster parrot papegaai vleugel sneeuw
bike fiets wiel melk peanut pinda olifant vrachtwagen
bird vogel nest paus pencil potlood viltstift laars
bottle fles glas film pig varken modder schotel
boy jongen meisje markt pillow kussen deken brood
breakfast ontbijt boterham regering plate bord eten hotel
bridge brug rivier student potato aardappel schil camera
butterfly vlinder zomer zuster queen koningin paleis ijzer
candle kaars vlam plank rabbit konijn vacht soep
car auto stuur vlag rainbow regenboog kleur lol
carrot wortel groente kantoor road weg spoor vlieg
chair stoel tafel boek rope touw draad zout
cheese kaas muis maan sailor matroos schip plant
chicken kip haan vlek sausage worst vlees beer
church kerk priester wenkbrauw scarf sjaal winter oever
cloud wolk regen boerderij shark haai vis hek
coat jas vest zolder sharpener puntenslijper potlood schilderij
country land dorp riem shop winkel kleding boel
curtain gordijn stof trap shower douche zeep vijver
desk bureau computer pagina skirt rok zon blok
dog hond kat huis smoke rook vuur roos
doll pop kind beeld snake slang tong dak
dress jurk feest baard spider spin web doos
duck eend gans klant spoon lepel bestek fabriek
ear oor mond duin stairs trap lift huid
eye oog wimper dichter strawberry aardbei druif indiaan
flower bloem tuin zee suit pak trui veer
frog kikker prins sigaar suitcase koffer handtas telefoon
girl meisje dochter kunst tail staart kapsel schuur
Accessing word meaning in second language learners 13
Appendix B. Continued
English Dutch semantically English Dutch semantically
word translation related unrelated word translation related unrelated
glasses bril neus gast teacher leerkracht leerling geweld
gun geweer oorlog muziek teeth tanden tandarts vakantie
horse paard ruiter leger towel handdoek afwas zadel
husband echtgenoot bruiloft publiek town stad flat eigeel
key sleutel deur vloer tree boom tak bus
king koning kroon brief turtle schildpad dier slot
knife mes vork kast waiter ober terras school
leg been voet matje wall muur huis spinazie
lion leeuw tijger suiker wife vrouw moeder wind
mirror spiegel badkamer voordeur window raam kozijn straat
money geld kassa toestel witch heks bezem licht
Appendix C. List of stimuli used in Experiment 2
English (backward translation) Dutch (forward translation)
airplane curtain monkey shower aap heks meisje sleutel
arrow desk mountain skirt aardappel hond mes spiegel
aunt dog newspaper smoke aardbei jas muur spin
bag doll onion snake auto jongen ober staart
basket dress parrot spider been jurk ontbijt stad
bike duck peanut spoon berg kaars oog stoel
bird ear pencil stairs bloem kaas oor tanden
bottle eye pig strawberry boom kerk paard tante
boy flower pillow suit bord kikker pak tas
breakfast frog plate suitcase bril kip papegaai touw
bridge girl potato tail brug koffer pijl trap
butterfly glasses queen teacher bureau konijn pinda ui
candle gun rabbit teeth douche koning pop varken
car horse rainbow towel echtgenoot koningin potlood vliegtuig
carrot husband road town eend krant puntenslijper vlinder
chair key rope tree fiets kussen raam vogel
cheese king sailor turtle fles land regenboog vrouw
chicken knife sausage waiter geld leeuw rok weg
church leg scarf wall geweer lepel rook winkel
cloud lion shark wife gordijn leraar schildpad wolk
coat mirror sharpener window haai mand sjaal worst
country money shop witch handdoek matroos slang wortel
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... Therefore, the strength of lexical and conceptual links depends largely on L2 proficiency. The assumptions of the RHM have been confirmed in studies with adults (Kroll et al., 2002) and children (Poarch et al., 2015). ...
... The children showed longer reaction times for trials with related distractors relative to trials with unrelated distractors, demonstrating an SIE. Relatedly, Poarch et al. (2015) examined the interference of meaning in language processing in beginning child L2 learners. The study explored whether access of word meaning in early L2 learners relied more on lexical or conceptual mediation. ...
... Second, cognates with greater phonological overlap would be processed faster than cognates with less overlap (Bosma et al., 2019;Von Holzen et al., 2019). Third, with regard to the semantic relatedness of the target and competitor picture, children would process stimuli with a semantically related competitor picture more slowly than in the unrelated condition (i.e., show an SIE; Poarch et al., 2015;Vales & Fisher, 2019). Fourth, furthermore, cognate status and semantic relatedness were predicted to interact and modulate performance differently based on their combination. ...
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We investigated lexical retrieval processes in 4- to 6-year-old German–English bilinguals by exploring cross-language activation during second-language (L2) word recognition of cognates and noncognates in semantically related and unrelated contexts in young learners of English. Both button presses (reaction times and accuracies) and eye-tracking data (percentage looks to target) yielded a significant cognate facilitation effect, indicating that the children’s performance was boosted by cognate words. Nonetheless, the degree of phonological overlap of cognates did not modulate their performance. Moreover, a semantic interference effect was found in the children’s eye movement data. However, in these young L2 learners, cognate status exerted a comparatively stronger impact on L2 word recognition than semantic relatedness. Finally, correlational analyses on the cognate and noncognate performance and the children’s executive function yielded a significant positive correlation between noncognate performance and their inhibitory control, suggesting that noncognate processing depended to a greater extent on inhibitory control than cognate processing.
... This evidence has been obtained by enriching the L2 learning context with material and tasks that favor the semantic processing of the new words. These include: the use of semantic ratings about the new words (Barcroft, 2002); presenting L2 vocabulary in semantically grouped sets (Finkbeiner & Nicol, 2003); the use of pictures that denote the meaning of the word to be learned (e.g., Comesaña et al., 2009Comesaña et al., , 2010Comesaña, Soares, Sánchez-Casas & Lima, 2012;Tonzar et al., 2009); pictures and listening/speaking exercises (e.g., Poarch, Van Hell & Kroll, 2014); gestures that represent the meaning of the new words (e.g., García-Gámez & Macizo, 2019;Tellier, 2008) etc.see Rice and Tokowicz, 2020, for a review of laboratory studies of adult second language vocabulary training. However, the results of behavioral research sometimes diverge from the outcomes reported in electrophysiological reports. ...
... As indicated above, many behavioral studies have found that word retrieval is easier in backward translation than in forward translation due to the difficulty associated with semantic processing in L1-L2 translation (e.g., Cheung & Chen, 1998;Finkbeiner & Nicol, 2003;García-Gámez & Macizo, 2019Kroll & Stewart, 1994;Poarch et al., 2014;Sholl, Sankaranarayanan & Kroll, 1995; for a critical review of asymmetry dependent on the translation direction, see Kroll et al., 2010). In electrophysiological terms, an easy retrieval of lexical information would be associated with an attenuation of the N400 component. ...
... As mentioned before, to our knowledge, there are no previous electrophysiological studies evaluating the impact that a lexical vs. semantic training would have on L2 vocabulary acquisition. Thus, the predictions of our study were based on preliminary behavioral research on the subject, the comparison between semantic vs. lexical L2 vocabulary acquisition trainings (e.g., Comesaña et al., 2012;García-Gámez & Macizo, 2020;Poarch et al., 2014), and electrophysiological studies regarding the evaluation tasks used in the current work (translation and picture-naminge.g., Guo et al., 2012;Jackson et al., 2001;Jost et al., 2018). ...
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... An influential finding is the translation asymmetry effect, typified by different cognitive demands for forward translation (FT, from L1 to L2) and backward translation (BT, from L2 to L1) (Kroll et al., 1994;French and Jacquet, 2004;Kroll et al., 2010;Ibrahim et al., 2017). Numerous works have examined this phenomenon through behavioral methods (Kroll et al., 1994;Kroll et al., 2010;Poarch et al., 2015;Ibrahim et al., 2017), prompting classical (Kroll et al., 1994) and recent (Dijkstra et al., 2019) models of bilingual lexical processing. Conversely, few studies have incorporated neuroscientific approaches (Garcı´a, 2013(Garcı´a, , 2019 and none has leveraged timesensitive brain synchrony measures indexing other cognitive distinctions in bilingualism research (Grabner et al., 2007;Elmer and Ku¨hnis, 2016;Vilas et al., 2019;Birba et al., 2020). ...
... Yet, underlying demands vary depending on language directionality. Typically, FT yields longer response times (RTs) than BT (Sa´chez-Casas et al., 1992;Degroot et al., 1994;Kroll et al., 1994;De Groot and Poot, 1997;Cheung and Chen, 1998;Kroll et al., 2010;Poarch et al., 2015;Ibrahim et al., 2017). This translation asymmetry effect has molded the notion of weaker connections from L1 to L2 words than vice versa -a cornerstone of bilingual memory accounts, from the pioneering Revised Hierarchical Model (Kroll et al., 2010) to the contemporary Multilink model (Dijkstra et al., 2019). ...
... RT results showed that FT was slower than every other condition, crucially including BT. This replicates previous reports targeting the same language pair (Sa´chez-Casas et al., 1992;Francis et al., 2014;Garcı´a, 2019) as well as others, such as English-German (Kroll et al., 1994), Russian-English (Ibrahim et al., 2017), Dutch-English (Degroot et al., 1994;De Groot and Poot, 1997;Poarch et al., 2015), and Chinese-English (Cheung and Chen, 1998). Interestingly, our results came from a highly proficient bilingual group, which might seem surprising considering claims that translation asymmetry attenuates as L2 competence increases (McElree et al., 2000;Christoffels et al., 2006;Garcı´a et al., 2014). ...
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... Three categories of pairs were used: correct translation, incorrect translation semantically related to the correct translation, and incorrect translation unrelated to the correct translation. These word pairs were used in order to investigate conceptual links through a semantic interference effect, that is, an increased number of errors and/or increased time for the rejection of words in the semantically related condition compared to the unrelated one (Altarriba & Mathis, 1997;Poarch, Van Hell, & Kroll, 2015;Sunderman & Kroll, 2006). Participants were Spanish children without any previous knowledge of Basque who learned Basque words either by L2-picture association (picture method) or by L2-L1 association (translation equivalent method). ...
... Interestingly, results also suggested that the learning method modulates access to L2 word meaning since the semantic interference effect was not observed in the translation equivalent learning condition. The results obtained by Poarch et al. (2015) were also in favour of an effect of learning method on L2 word processing. In their experiment, fifth-grade children who pursued a weekly one-hour English course in a context enriched by pictures and oral exercises had longer response times and lower accuracies for semantically related word pairs than semantically unrelated ones in a translation recognition task, suggesting that they were already sensitive to L2 word meaning. ...
... Despite the interesting results obtained by Poarch et al. (2015), there was no direct investigation of the effect of learning method on L2 word processing by comparing two learning methods. Comesaña et al. (2009) obtained results after an individual learning session, during which the experimenter corrected any errors. ...
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... Fourth, the RHM also underestimates the lexicalsemantic links in L2 by overestimating the lexical mediation between L2 and L1. Nevertheless, this assumption has been questioned in the literature with multiple lexical-semantic tasks, i.e., backward (L2 to L1) and forward (L1 to L2) translation tasks (e.g., Duyck & Brysbaert, 2004), translation judgment tasks (e.g., Altarriba & Mathis, 1997;Sunderman & Kroll, 2006;Poarch, Van Hell & Kroll, 2015; but see. Talamas, Kroll & Dufour, 1999 for contradictory results), and semantic categorization tasks (e.g., Dufour & Kroll, 1995). ...
Thesis
The contribution of orthography has been reported for learning of low-frequency words in native language (L1; Rosenthal & Ehri, 2008) and of pseudowords (Ricketts, Bishop, & Nation, 2009) by using a paired-associate learning paradigm (PAL). These studies cannot fully account for foreign language (L2) word learning, for which both L2 spoken and written forms have to be linked into a pre-existing concept, which in turn, is already connected to phonological and (sometimes) to an orthographic representation in L1. Besides, L2 learning confronts children to different challenges, such as incongruent letter/sound mapping with L1, due to the larger overlap on written than on spoken modality between languages (Marian et al., 2012). Therefore, this doctoral work aimed to explore the benefit of orthography on L2 word learning in children and to determine whether this advantage was modulated by L1 reading skills. We also sought to determine the moderating effect of incongruent letter/sound mappings with L1 on L2 learning. Using a PAL, we conducted three main L2 vocabulary learning studies by contrasting two learning methods, both simultaneous presentation of spoken and written (orthographic method) vs spoken forms only (non-orthographic method). As for learning phase, we made two groups of children (third vs. fifth graders) learn 16 (Study 1a) or 24 German words (Study 1b, Study 2). As for testing, we assessed learning performance with three main experimental tasks: a forced-choice picture recognition task (choose the correct image corresponding to the spoken form), a go/no-go spoken recognition task (discrimination between spoken German words and close phonological distractors) and an orthographic judgment task (select the correct German written form among three written distractors). We reported a consistent benefit of orthography on all three experimental tasks in both groups, supporting that children relied on written information at early steps of L2 learning. Still, contradictory results were reported for phonological learning in fifth graders, given that the benefit of orthography was only retrieved when increasing the learning load (Study 1b). Interestingly, although fifth graders outperformed the third graders on all experimental tasks, we reported a comparable amplitude for the orthographic facilitation in both groups. Measures of L1 reading skills were not (consistently) correlated with L2 vocabulary learning, supporting that a minimal amount of orthographic knowledge was enough to trigger an orthographic facilitation. A moderating effect of incongruent letter/sound mappings with L1 was restricted to L2 phonological learning, with larger discriminative performance for congruent compared to incongruent L2 words immediately after learning (Study 2), but disappeared after a one-week delay, aiming for a differential time-course for the encoding of congruent and incongruent L2 words, an assumption that was discussed in regards to the ontogenetic model of L2 lexical representation (Bordag, Gor, & Opitz, 2021) and to the L2 lexical fuzziness (Kapnoula, 2021). Study 3 was conducted during an Indoc mobility and explored whether the bilingual advantage on L3 vocabulary learning might be extended to children attending a classroom-immersion to L2 and whether this advantage was reinforced by the cross-linguistic similarities conveyed by cognate words. We reported a generalized advantage and cognate facilitation was restricted to the learning of novel L3 written form. In light of these results, this doctoral work reinforced the need for developmental models of bilingualism to consider the lexical and sublexical processing at early steps of L2 acquisition.
... For instance, unbalanced bilinguals appear to have developed asymmetric relationships between category names (Chen et al., 2016). Poarch et al. (2015) discovered that fifth-grade Dutch L2 learners were faster in L2-L1 than in L1-L2 translation, which is consistent with RHM. Even for high-proficiency bilinguals, their response time in lexical decision was also facilitated by convert rhymes (Menenti, 2006). ...
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Interpreters can either interpret from the first language (L1) to the second language (L), or in the other direction. Understanding translation and interpreting as a direction-dependent process contributes to a wider and more critical view regarding the role of both languages in the process, as well as the identity, perspectives, and preferences of translators. The effect of directionality primarily weighs on stimulus and individual factors. This study explores the impact of directionality on the performance of trainee interpreters by examining four critical aspects of quality in target speeches, namely: speech rate, information completeness, delivery, and quality of expression. We observed an advantage for L2-L1 over L1-L2 interpreting in the form of interpreting quality (i.e., delivery and quality of expression) but not in content (i.e., the level of information retained in the target language). These effects of interpreting directionality suggest an important role of L2 proficiency in interpreting. Moreover, L1-L2 interpreting is cognitively demanding compared to L2-L1 interpreting for trainee interpreters. This research sheds light on the cognitive mechanisms of interpreting in different directions and provides pedagogical recommendations for training interpreters.
... Two tests were used to evaluate the acquisition of FL words in the 'see' and 'do' teaching groups: Translation from Spanish into Vimmi (forward translation from L1 to FL) and translation from Vimmi into Spanish (backward translation from FL to L1). These tasks have been used in previous studies to evaluate FL learning (Kroll & De Groot, 2005;Poarch, Van Hell, & Kroll, 2015) and in studies about the role of gestures in FL vocabulary acquisition (García-Gámez & Macizo, 2019). ...
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... According to a highly influential model of lexical access , but see e.g., Finkbeiner et al., 2006), an L2 distractor word activates both the L2 word form and its L1 translation equivalent, which, in turn, interferes with the retrieval of the L1 target picture name. Although 1015 this model was designed to account for lexical access in highly proficient balanced bilinguals, Kroll et al., 2010;Kroll & Stewart, 1994;Poarch et al., 2015). Furthermore, it is unclear why grouping novel words in semantic sets should lead to stronger links between the novel words and their L1 counterparts, specifically if pictures rather than the L1 words are used during learning. ...
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Does a concurrent verbal working memory (WM) load constrain cross-linguistic activation? In a visual world study, participants listened to Hindi (L1) or English (L2) spoken words and viewed a display containing the phonological cohort of the translation equivalent (TE cohort) of the spoken word and 3 distractors. Experiment 1 was administered without a load. Participants then maintained two or four letters (Experiment 2) or two, six or eight letters (Experiment 3) in WM and were tested on backward sequence recognition after the visual world display. Greater looks towards TE cohorts were observed in both the language directions in Experiment 1. With a load, TE cohort activation was inhibited in the L2 – L1 direction and observed only in the early stages after word onset in the L1 – L2 direction suggesting a critical role of language direction. These results indicate that cross-linguistic activation as seen through eye movements depends on cognitive resources such as WM.
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Lexical and conceptual representation in bilingual memory for both novice and expert bilinguals was examined in a series of three experiments. In Experiment 1a, monolingual English speakers learned a set of Spanish–English translations and were then tested using a translation recognition task. Response times to orthographically related foils were longer than response times to unrelated words. Lexical interference was also found to a lesser extent for expert bilinguals. In Experiment 1b, semantically related foils also produced interference, but the interference was greatest for expert bilingual participants. A bilingual version of the Stroop color-word task was used in Experiment 2, and novice and expert bilinguals each demonstrated Stroop effects both within and between languages. The results of all three experiments indicate that both conceptual and lexical links are formed for second language words, even after a single learning session. These results call into question the asymmetrical model of bilingual memory proposed by Kroll and Stewart (1994) which suggests that novice bilinguals rely exclusively on lexical representations when first acquiring a second language.
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Noun translation equivalents that share orthographic and semantic features, called "cognates", are generally recognized faster than translation equivalents without such overlap. This cognate effect, which has also been obtained when cognates and noncognates were embedded in a sentence context, emerges from the coactivation of representations in two languages. The present study examined whether cognate facilitation in sentences is subject to effects of word class, reading proficiency in a second language (L2), and task demands. We measured eye movements (Experiment 1) and self-paced reading times (Experiment 2) for Dutch-English bilinguals reading L2 sentences that contained either a noun or a verb cognate. Results showed that cognate effects were smaller for verbs than for nouns. Furthermore, cognate facilitation was reduced for readers with a higher proficiency in L2 as expressed by self-ratings or reading speed in L2. Additionally, the results of the eye-movement study and the self-paced reading study indicated that the likelihood of observing cognate facilitation effects also depends on task demands. The obtained pattern of results helps to identify some of the boundaries of the cognate effect.
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The Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM) of bilingual language processing dominates current thinking on bilingual language processing. Recently, basic tenets of the model have been called into question. First, there is little evidence for separate lexicons. Second, there is little evidence for language selective access. Third, the inclusion of excitatory connections between translation equivalents at the lexical level is likely to impede word recognition. Fourth, the connections between L2 words and their meanings are stronger than proposed in RHM. And finally, there is good evidence to make a distinction between language-dependent and language-independent semantic features. It is argued that the Revised Hierarchical Model cannot easily be adapted to incorporate these challenges and that a more fruitful way forward is to start from existing computational models of monolingual language processing and see how they can be adapted for bilingual input and output, as has been done in the Bilingual Interactive Activation model.
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The determinants of performance in word translation by unbalanced bilinguals, fairly fluent in their second language, were studied. Translation was both from the subjects′ native (L1) to their second (L2) language and in the reverse direction ("forward" and backward" translation, respectively). The predictor variables were imageability, context availability, definition accuracy, familiarity, word frequency, length (each of these six was determined for the L1 and L2 words separately), and the cognate status of the translation equivalents. Both forward and backward word translation were influenced by meaning variables, familiarity variables, and cognate status. However, meaning played a somewhat more important role in forward than in backward translation, whereas familiarity appeared to have a larger influence in backward translation. A few other differences between forward and backward translation were detected, but, when considering the complete stimulus set, the differences between translation directions were generally small. In some of the subsets of the stimulus materials (particularly noncognates) larger directional differences occurred. Particularly relevant is the finding that meaning affects backward translation, because it suggests a qualification of the "asymmetry model" of word translation as proposed by Kroll and Stewart (1994).
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This study examines contrasting predictions of the dual coding theory and the context availability hypothesis regarding concreteness effects in monolingual and bilingual lexical processing. In three experiments, concreteness was controlled for or confounded with rated context availability. In the first experiment, bilingual subjects performed lexical decision in their native language (Dutch, L1). In the second experiment, lexical decision performance of bilinguals in their second language (English, L2) was examined. In the third experiment, bilinguals translated words "forwards" (from L1 to L2) or "backwards" (from L2 to L1). Both monolingual and bilingual tasks showed a concreteness effect when concreteness was confounded with context availability. However, concreteness effects disappeared when abstract and concrete words were matched on context availability, and even occasionally reversed. Implications of these results for theories that account for concreteness effects, particulary in bilingual processing, are discussed.
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