Word Type Effects on L2 Word Retrieval and Learning: Homonym versus Synonym Vocabulary Instruction

Document Type: Research Paper


University of Zabol, Iran


The purpose of this study was twofold: (a) to assess the retention of two word types (synonyms and homonyms) in the short term memory, and (b) to investigate the effect of these word types on word learning by asking learners to learn their Persian meanings. A total of 73 Iranian language learners studying English translation participated in the study. For the first purpose, 36 freshmen from an intact class were presented with two lists of words with their Persian meanings. One of the lists included 5 pairs of synonyms and the other one included 5 pairs of homonyms. They were asked to retain as much vocabulary items as they can. Learning was measured by lexical representations of the words. The results showed the learners did better on the retention of homonyms than synonyms. For the second purpose, 37 sophomores from an intact class were provided with 40 words in pairs (20 synonyms and 20 homonyms). They were asked to write their Persian meanings in the testing session. The results indicated the students did better on learning synonyms than homonyms. The study revealed that homonyms are better retrieved in short term memory but learned more slowly regarding to the semantic representation.


Barcroft, J. (2002). “Semantic and structural elaboration in L2 lexical acquisition”, Language Learning, 52(2), pp. 323-363.

Barcroft, J. (2007). “Effects of opportunities for word retrieval during second language vocabulary learning”, Language Learning 57 (1), pp. 35-56.

Civikic, L. (2007). “The importance of language specific features for vocabulary acquisition: An Example of Croatin”, in Lengyel, Z. and Navracsics, J. (eds), Second Language Lexical Process: Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistic perspectives, Multilingual matters Ltd, pp.146-165.

Cutler, A., and Norris, D. G. (1988). “The role of strong syllables in segmentation for lexical access”, Journal of Experimental Psychology, Human Perception and Performance, 14, pp.113-121.

De Groot, A. M. B. (2006). “Effects of stimulus characteristics and background music on foreign language vocabulary learning and forgetting”, Language Learning, 56(3), pp. 463-506.

Doherty, M. J.  (2000). “Children’s understanding of homonymy: metalinguistic awareness and false belief”, Journal of Child Language, 27, pp. 367-392.

Doherty, M. J. (2004). “Children’s difficulty in learning homonyms”, Journal of Child Language, 31, pp. 203-214.

Finkbeiner, M., and Nicol, J. (2003). “Semantic category effects in second language word Learning”, Applied Psycholinguistics, 24, pp. 369-383.

Gairns, R., and Redman, S. (1986). Working with Words: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Vocabulary, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hashemi, M. R., and Gowdasiaei, F. (2005). “An attribute-treatment interaction study: lexical-Set versus semantically-unrelated vocabulary instruction”, RELC Journal, 36(3), pp. 341- 361.

Hoshino, Y. (2010). “The categorical facilitation effects on l2 vocabulary learning in a classroom setting”, RELC Journal, 41(3), pp. 301-312.

Huckin, T., and Coady, J. (1999). “Incidental vocabulary acquisition in a second language: a review”, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 21(2), pp. 181-193.

Keating, G. D. (2008). “Task effectiveness and word learning in a second language: the involvement load hypothesis on trial”, Language Teaching Research, 12 (3), pp. 365-386.

Koda, K. (1997). “Orthographic knowledge in L2 lexical processing”, in Coady, J., and Huckin, T. (eds.) Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kroll, J. F., and Stewart, E. (1994). “Category interference in translation and picture naming: Evidence for asymmetric connection between bilingual memory representations”, Journal of Memory and Language, 33, pp. 149-174.

Laufer, B. (1988). “The concept of ‘synforms’ (similar lexical forms) in vocabulary acquisition”, Language and Education, 2(2), pp. 113-132.

Levine, H., Levine, N., and Levine, R. T. (2003). Vocabulary for Collage-Bound Student. 4th ed. Amsco School Publications, Inc.

Levine, H., Levine, N., and Levine, R. T. (2005). Vocabulary for High School Student, 4th ed. Amsco School Publications, Inc.

MacCarthy, M., and O’Dell, F. (2002). English Vocabulary in Use, Cambridge University Press.

Mazzocco, M. M., Myers, G. F., Thompson, L. A., and Desai, S. S. (2003). “Possible explanations for children’s literal interpretations of homonyms”, Journal of Child Language, 30, pp. 879–904.

Mazzocco, M. M. (1997). “Children’s interpretations of homonyms: a developmental study”, Journal of Child Language, 24, pp. 441-467.

Nation, P. (2009). 400 Essential English Words, Compass Publishing.

Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, Cambridge: CUP.

Pellicer-Sánchez, A., and Schmitt, N. (2010). “Incidental vocabulary acquisition from an authentic novel: do things fall apart?”, Reading in a Foreign Language, 22 (1), pp.31-55.

Peters, E., Hulstijn, J. H., Sercu, L., Lutjeharms, M. (2009). “Learning L2 german vocabulary through reading: the effect of three enhancement techniques compared”, Language learning, 59 (1), pp. 113-151.

Schmitt, N. (2008). “Review article: Instructed second language vocabulary learning”, Language Teaching Research, 12 (3), pp. 329-363.

Seal, B. D. (1991). “Vocabulary learning and teaching, in M. Celce–Murcia (ed.), Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (2nd ed), Boston: Heinle & Heinle, pp. 296-311.

Storkel, H. L., and Maekawa, J. (2005). “A comparison of homonym and novel word learning: The role of phonotactic probability and word frequency”, J Child Lang, 32(4), NIH Public Access, pp. 827-853.

Tinkham, T. (1993) “The effect of semantic clustering on the learning of second language vocabulary”, System, 21(3), pp. 371-380.

Tinkham, T. (1997). “The effect of semantic and thematic clustering on the learning of second language vocabulary”, Second Language Research, 13 (2),pp. 138-163.

Waring, R. (1997). “The negative effects of learning words in semantic sets: a replication”, System, 25(2), pp. 261-274.

Webb, S.  (2007). “The effects of repetition on vocabulary knowledge”, Applied Linguistics, 28/1, Oxford University Press, pp. 46-65.