Second language vocabulary acquisition: Male vs female learners and the role of words associated with emotion


Schuetze, Ulf*
University of Victoria, Canada (


In order to make vocabulary learning efficient, one line of research is to investigate what role spacing techniques play when words are processed to memory (Nation, 2001; 2009). In this context, the role of neurotransmitters, that are part of the neurophysiological process of rehearsing and recalling words, has not been investigated. One question is if female students, who have higher levels of estrogen than male students, that stimulate the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, have a natural advantage processing words using spacing techniques. Another question is if words associated with emotion are processed faster, as the neurotransmitter serotonin is linked to happiness and the neurotransmitter dopamine is linked to pleasure. This article reports on a study that was carried out in North America with learners of German (beginners’ level). It investigated if recall rates differ between female and male students using spacing techniques, in particular in regards to words associated with emotion. Results (using inferential statistics) showed that female students recalled words more successfully than male students if the words had been rehearsed five times. However, the effect was not robust, in particular in regards to emotional words. Furthermore, the rate of forgetting was significant for both, female and male students.

Keywords: second language acquisition; vocabulary learning; memory; emotion; gender



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