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We know that from mid-childhood onwards most new words are learned implicitly via reading; however, most word learning studies have taught novel items explicitly. We examined incidental word learning during reading by focusing on the well-documented finding that words which are acquired early in life are processed more quickly than those acquired later. Novel words were embedded in meaningful sentences and were presented to adult readers early (day 1) or later (day 2) during a five-day exposure phase. At test adults read the novel words in semantically neutral sentences. Participants' eye movements were monitored throughout exposure and test. Adults also completed a surprise memory test in which they had to match each novel word with its definition. Results showed a decrease in reading times for all novel words over exposure, and significantly shorter [corrected] total reading times at test for early than late novel words. Early-presented novel words were also remembered better in the offline test. Our results show that order of presentation influences processing time early in the course of acquiring a new word, consistent with partial and incremental growth in knowledge occurring as a function of an individual's experience with each word.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





238 - 248


Age of Acquisition, Eye movements, Reading, Word learning, Adult, Eye Movements, Humans, Language, Learning, Reaction Time, Reading, Recognition (Psychology), Vocabulary