Can adults learn L2 grammar after prolonged exposure under incidental conditions?

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


While late second language (L2) learning is assumed to be largely explicit, there is evidence that adults are able to acquire grammar under incidental exposure conditions, and that the acquisition of this knowledge may be implicit in nature. Here, we revisit the question of whether adults can learn grammar incidentally and investigate whether word order and morphology are susceptible to incidental learning to the same degree. In experiment 1, adult English monolinguals were exposed to an artificial language (Kepidalo) that had case marking and variable word order: a canonical Subject-Object-Verb order and a non-canonical Object-Subject-Verb. In a five-session online study, participants received vocabulary training while being incidentally exposed to grammar, and completed a series of picture-selection and grammaticality judgment tasks assessing grammatical knowledge. Despite extensive exposure to input, and although performance on vocabulary increased significantly across sessions, learners’ grammatical comprehension showed little improvement over time, and this was limited to Subject-Object-Verb sentences only. Furthermore, participants were better at detecting word order than case marking violations in the grammaticality judgment tasks. Experiment 2 further increased the amount of incidental exposure whilst examining native speakers of German, which exhibits higher morphological richness. Testing was followed by a post-test metalinguistic awareness questionnaire. Although greater learning effects were observed, participants continued to have difficulties with case marking. The findings also demonstrated that language outcomes were modulated by learners’ level of metalinguistic awareness. Taken together, the results of the two experiments underscore adult learners’ difficulty with case marking and point towards the presence of a threshold in incidental L2 grammar learning, which appears to be tightly linked to prior first language experience. In addition, our findings continue to highlight the facilitative role of conscious awareness on L2 outcomes.

ZeitschriftPLoS ONE
Anzahl der Seiten40
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 26.07.2023