Readability for foreign language learning: The importance of cognates

Lisa Beinborn, Torsten Zesch, Iryna Gurevych

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this paper, we analyse the differences between L1 acquisition and L2 learning and identify four main aspects: input quality and quantity, mapping processes, cross-lingual influence, and reading experience. As a consequence of these differences, we conclude that L1 readability measures cannot be directly mapped to L2 readability. We propose to calculate L2 readability for various dimensions and for smaller units. It is particularly important to account for the cross-lingual influence from the learner’s L1 and other previously acquired languages and for the learner’s higher experience in reading. In our analysis, we focus on lexical readability as it has been found to be the most influential dimension for L2 reading comprehension. We discuss the features frequency, lexical variation, concreteness, polysemy, and context specificity and analyse their impact on L2 readability. As a new feature specific to L2 readability, we propose the cognateness of words with words in languages the learner already knows. A pilot study confirms our assumption that learners can deduce the meaning of new words by their cognateness to other languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-162
Number of pages27
JournalITL - International Journal of Applied Linguistics (Belgium)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognates
  • Language transfer
  • Readability measures
  • Second language learning


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