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  1. Stephen Matthews
  2. Virginia Yip
  3. Patrick C.M. Wong

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Description: The question of why native and foreign languages are learned with a large performance gap has prompted language researchers to hypothesize that they are subserved by fundamentally different mechanisms. However, this hypothesis may not have taken into account that these languages can be learned under different conditions (e.g., naturalistic vs. classroom settings). With a large sample of 636 third language (L3) learners who learned Chinese and English as their first (L1) and second (L2) languages, the present study examined the association of learning success across L1, L2, and L3. We argue that learning conditions may reveal how these languages are associated in terms of learning success. Because these languages were learned under a continuum of naturalistic to classroom conditions from L1 to L3, this sample afforded us a unique opportunity to evaluate the hypothesis that similar learning conditions between languages could be an important driving force determining language learning success. After controlling for non-language factors such as musical background and motivational factors and using a convergence of analytics including the general linear model, the structural equation model and machine learning, we found that the closer two languages were on the continuum of learning conditions, the stronger their association of learning success. Specifically, we found a significant association between L1 and L2, and between L2 and L3, but not between L1 and L3. Our results suggest that learning conditions may have important implications for the learning success of L1, L2, and L3.


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