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.
- foreign-language learning
- individual differences
- statistical learning
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