Input variability is key in many aspects of linguistic learning, yet variability increases input complexity, which may cause difficulty in some learning contexts. The current work investigates this trade-off by comparing speaker variability effects on L2 vocabulary learning in different age-groups. Existing literature suggests that speaker variability benefits L2 vocabulary learning in adults, but this may not be the case for younger learners. In this study, native English-speaking adults, 7-8 year-olds, and 10-11 year-olds learned six novel Lithuanian words from a single speaker, and six from eight speakers. In line with previous research, adults showed better production of the multi-speaker items at test. No such benefit was found for either group of children either in production or comprehension. Children also had greater difficulties in processing multiple-speaker cues during training. We conclude that age-related capacity limitations may constrain the ability to utilize speaker variability when learning words in a new language.
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The role of input variability and learner age in second language vocabulary learning
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