Visual word learning in skilled readers of English

Kit Wan Rosa Kwok, Andrew W. Ellis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three experiments are reported analysing the processes by which adult readers of English learn new written words. Visual word learning was simulated by presenting short (four-letter) and longer (seven-letter) nonwords repeatedly and observing the reduction in naming latencies and the convergence in reaction times (RTs) to shorter and longer items that are the hallmarks of visual word learning. Experiment 1 presented nonwords in ten consecutive blocks. Naming latencies reduced over the first four or five presentations. The effect of length on naming RTs was large in block 1 but non-significant after four or five presentations. Experiment 2 demonstrated some reduction in RTs to untrained nonwords following practice on a trained set, but the reduction was less than for the trained items and RTs to shorter and longer nonwords did not converge. Experiment 3 included a retest after seven days which showed some slowing of RTs compared with the end of the first session but also considerable retention of learning. We conclude that four to six exposures to novel words (nonwords) are sufficient to establish durable lexical representations that permit parallel processing of newly-learned words. The results are discussed in terms of theoretical models of reading and word learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-349
Number of pages24
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date12 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Lexicalization
  • Reading
  • Visual word recognition
  • Word learning
  • Word length
  • Word naming

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