Word recognition in child second language learners: Evidence from cognates and false friends

Pascal Brenders, Janet G. van Hell, Ton Dijkstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


We studied how Dutch children learned English as a second language (L2) in the classroom. Learners at different levels of L2 proficiency recognized words under different task conditions. Beginning learners in primary school (fifth and sixth grades) and more advanced learners in secondary school (seventh and ninth grades) made lexical decisions on words that are similar for English and Dutch in both meaning and form (" cognates") or only in form (" false friends"). Cognates were processed faster than matched control words by all participant groups in an English lexical decision task (Experiment 1) but not in a Dutch lexical decision task (Experiment 2). An English lexical decision task that mixed cognates and false friends (Experiment 3) led to consistently longer reaction times for both item types relative to controls. Thus, children in the early stages of learning an L2 already activate word candidates in both of their languages (language-nonselective access) and respond differently to cognates in the presence or absence of false friends in the stimulus list.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-396
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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