The role of verbal and pictorial information in multimodal incidental acquisition of foreign language vocabulary

Marie Josée Bisson*, Walter J.B. van Heuven, Kathy Conklin, Richard J. Tunney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study used eye tracking to investigate the allocation of attention to multimodal stimuli during an incidental learning situation, as well as its impact on subsequent explicit learning. Participants were exposed to foreign language (FL) auditory words on their own, in conjunction with written native language (NL) translations, or with both written NL translations and pictures. Incidental acquisition of FL words was assessed the following day through an explicit learning task where participants learned to recognize translation equivalents, as well as one week later through recall and translation recognition tests. Results showed higher accuracy scores in the explicit learning task for FL words presented with meaning during incidental learning, whether written meaning or both written meaning and picture, than for FL words presented auditorily only. However, participants recalled significantly more FL words after a week delay if they had been presented with a picture during incidental learning. In addition, the time spent looking at the pictures during incidental learning significantly predicted recognition and recall scores one week later. Overall, results demonstrated the impact of exposure to multimodal stimuli on subsequent explicit learning, as well as the important role that pictorial information can play in incidental vocabulary acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1306-1326
Number of pages21
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

© 2014 The Author. Published by Taylor & Francis
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.
org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited. The moral rights of the named author(s) have been asserted.


  • Eye tracking
  • Foreign language learning
  • Incidental learning
  • Multimodalities
  • Vocabulary acquisition


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