Production Practice During Language Learning Improves Comprehension

Psychol Sci. 2018 Jun;29(6):961-971. doi: 10.1177/0956797618754486. Epub 2018 Apr 11.


Language learners often spend more time comprehending than producing a new language. However, memory research suggests reasons to suspect that production practice might provide a stronger learning experience than comprehension practice. We tested the benefits of production during language learning and the degree to which this learning transfers to comprehension skill. We taught participants an artificial language containing multiple linguistic dependencies. Participants were randomly assigned to either a production- or a comprehension-learning condition, with conditions designed to balance attention demands and other known production-comprehension differences. After training, production-learning participants outperformed comprehension-learning participants on vocabulary comprehension and on comprehension tests of grammatical dependencies, even when we controlled for individual differences in vocabulary learning. This result shows that producing a language during learning can improve subsequent comprehension, which has implications for theories of memory and learning, language representations, and educational practices.

Keywords: artificial language learning; language comprehension; language learning; language production; learning transfer; open data; open materials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Psycholinguistics*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Transfer, Psychology / physiology
  • Young Adult