Adult language learning after minimal exposure to an unknown natural language

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Despite the literatures on the role of input in adult second language (L2) acquisition, and on artificial and statistical language learning, surprisingly little is known about how adults break into a new language in the wild. This paper reports on a series of behavioral and neuroimaging studies that examine what linguistic information adults can extract from naturalistic but controlled audio-visual input in an unknown and typologically distant L2 after minimal exposure (7 - 14 minutes) without instruction or training. We tested the step-wise development of segmental, phonotactic and lexical knowledge in Dutch adults after minimal exposure to Mandarin Chinese, and the role of item frequency, speech-associated gestures, and word length at the earliest stages of learning. In an exploratory neural connectivity study we further examined the neural correlates of word recognition in a new language, identifying brain regions whose connectivity was related to performance both before and after learning. While emphasizing the complexity of the learning task, the results suggest that the adult learning mechanism is more powerful than is normally assumed when faced with small amounts of complex, continuous audio-visual language input.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • word recognition, meaning-to-form, fMRI, L2 acquisition, input, phonotactics
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-24
JournalLanguage Learning
Issue numberS2
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Humanities Lab (015101200), Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)

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