Production Practice During Language Learning Improves Comprehension

Language learners often spend more time comprehending than producing a new language. However, memory research suggests reasons to suspect that production practice might provide a stronger learning experience than comprehension practice. We tested the benefits of production during language learning and the degree to which this learning transfers to comprehension skill. We taught participants an artificial language containing multiple linguistic dependencies. Participants were randomly assigned to either a production- or a comprehension-learning condition, with conditions designed to balance attention demands and other known production–comprehension differences. After training, production-learning participants outperformed comprehension-learning participants on vocabulary comprehension and on comprehension tests of grammatical dependencies, even when we controlled for individual differences in vocabulary learning. This result shows that producing a language during learning can improve subsequent comprehension, which has implications for theories of memory and learning, language representations, and educational practices.

Resources for scientists related to this paper:

– The scientific article (journal website, restricted accesmanuscript, open access)
– OSF archive which has materials, data and analyses as well as a
video recording of the talk presented about this research at the 2017 CUNY human sentence processing conference at MIT

Resources for the broader public:

– radio interviews: 30 minute interview at the local community radio WORT and a 10 minute interview at Wisconsin Public Radio (our portion starts at 11:40)
– press releases (one by UW-Madison and one by the Association for Psychological Science)
– accessible summaries at kudos and Open Accessible Summaries In Language Studies (OASIS)

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