Self-teaching new words among English language learners

Yixun LI, Min WANG, Daniel ESPINAS

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Children can teach themselves new words via the process of independent text reading—previous studies on self-teaching heavily focused on learning to read in a first language (L1). Limited work to date has been devoted to second language learning (L2). The present study aimed to fill this gap by investigating self-teaching among English Language Learners (ELLs) with Spanish L1, with a specific focus on the roles of exposure time and context. Twenty-one third-grade ELLs read aloud eight texts, including four cohesive stories and four scrambled texts, each containing one target pseudoword. In half of the texts, the target pseudowords appeared four times and in the other half, six times. Recognition and spelling posttests were administered both immediately after text reading and after a seven-day interval. Results showed that ELL children were able to self-teach novel target words with four exposures and maintained them for seven days. Children’s phonological recoding was significantly correlated with their self-teaching outcomes. Two more exposures improved their performance in detailed and specific spelling representations in the immediate posttest. Story context showed a trend to help ELLs decode novel English words in text reading; however, it did not affect the children’s self-teaching outcomes. Taken together, our findings suggest that four exposures are sufficient for the self-teaching of ELLs with Spanish L1. Exposure time has an important role in orthographic learning in L2, and context may not benefit self-teaching when phonological decoding is adequate. Copyright © 2022 The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2389-2408
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number10
Early online dateApr 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


Li, Y., Wang, M., & Espinas, D. (2022). Self-teaching new words among English language learners. Reading and Writing, 35(10), 2389-2408. doi: 10.1007/s11145-022-10291-5


  • Context
  • Exposure time
  • English language learners
  • Orthographic learning
  • Self-teaching


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