Brief Report

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 1259-1265

First online:

Don’t just repeat after me: Retrieval practice is better than imitation for foreign vocabulary learning

  • Sean H. K. KangAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California, San DiegoDepartment of Education, Dartmouth College Email author 
  • , Tamar H. GollanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego
  • , Harold PashlerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of California, San Diego


Second language (L2) instruction programs often ask learners to repeat aloud words spoken by a native speaker. However, recent research on retrieval practice has suggested that imitating native pronunciation might be less effective than drill instruction, wherein the learner is required to produce the L2 words from memory (and given feedback). We contrasted the effectiveness of imitation and retrieval practice drills on learning L2 spoken vocabulary. Learners viewed pictures of objects and heard their names; in the imitation condition, they heard and then repeated aloud each name, whereas in the retrieval practice condition, they tried to produce the name before hearing it. On a final test administered either immediately after training (Exp. 1) or after a 2-day delay (Exp. 2), retrieval practice produced better comprehension of the L2 words, better ability to produce the L2 words, and no loss of pronunciation quality.


Human memory Human associative learning