Investigating distribution of practice effects for the learning of foreign language verb morphology in the young learner classroom

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Within limited-input language classrooms, understanding the effect of distribution of practice (spacing between practice) on learning is critical, yet evidence is conflicting and of limited relevance for young learners. For second language (L2) grammar learning, some studies reveal advantages for spacing of 7 days or more (Bird, 2010; Rogers, 2015), but others for shorter spacing (Suzuki, 2017). Further, little is known about the role of cognitive individual differences (e.g., language analytic ability) in mediating practice distribution effects for L2 grammatical knowledge development and retention (Suzuki & DeKeyser, 2017). To address this gap, this classroom-based study investigated whether distribution of practice and language analytic ability moderated the effectiveness of explicit, input-based grammar instruction for young first language (L1) English learners of French (aged 8 to 11). The study revealed minimal differences between longer (7-day) versus shorter (3.5-day) spacing of practice for learning an L2 French verb inflection subsystem, at either post- or delayed post-test. Minimal group-level gains and substantial within-group variation in performance at post-tests was observed. Accuracy of practice during training and language analytic ability were significantly associated with post-test performance under both practice schedules. These findings indicated that within an ecologically valid classroom context, differences in distribution of practice had limited impact on learner performance on our tests; rather, individual learner differences were more critical in moderating learning. This highlights the importance of considering individual learner differences in the development of resources and the potential of digital tools for dynamically adapting instruction to suit individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)580-606
JournalThe Modern Language Journal
Issue number3
Early online date4 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Authors


  • distribution of practice
  • foreign language learning
  • game-based learning
  • grammar
  • lag effects
  • language analytic ability
  • young learners

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