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.
More research suggests, unsurprisingly, that it’s most effective to practise the thing that you want to become good at. When you’re speaking a second language, you don’t just go around repeating what other people say, you think of your own things and try to say them, so repetition shouldn’t be the main thing that you practise. And there’s a lot of research in favour of low-stakes testing as an effective learning strategy, for vocabulary and more.