What Predicts Successful Literacy Acquisition in a Second Language?

Ram Frost*, Noam Siegelman, Alona Narkiss, Liron Afek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


In the study reported here, we examined whether success (or failure) in assimilating the structure of a second language can be predicted by general statistical-learning abilities that are nonlinguistic in nature. We employed a visual-statistical-learning (VSL) task, monitoring our participants' implicit learning of the transitional probabilities of visual shapes. A pretest revealed that performance in the VSL task was not correlated with abilities related to a general g factor or working memory. We found that, on average, native speakers of English who more accurately picked up the implicit statistical structure embedded in the continuous stream of shapes better assimilated the Semitic structure of Hebrew words. Languages and their writing systems are characterized by idiosyncratic correlations of form and meaning, and our findings suggest that these correlations are picked up in the process of literacy acquisition, as they are picked up in any other type of learning, for the purpose of making sense of the environment.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1243-1252
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (159/10 awarded to Ram Frost) and by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (RO1 HD 067364 awarded to Ken Pugh and Ram Frost, and PO1HD 01994 awarded to Haskins Laboratories).


  • bilingualism
  • foreign-language learning
  • individual differences
  • statistical learning


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