The L2 proficiency level effect in L3 lexical learning: high-proficiency L2s do not transfer

  • Ylva Falk Stockholm university
  • Christina Lindqvist University of Gothenburg


In this case study we investigate the role of the proficiency level in an earlier formally learned L2 for the transfer source in L3 learning at the lexical level, by comparing two pairs of learners with different proficiency levels in their L2s English, French, Spanish and Italian. The data were gathered with a mirror design: L1 German/L3 Swedish and L1 Swedish/L3 German. The learners were absolute beginners of the L3. Both pairs were recorded over 6 months during conversation with a bilingual German/Swedish interlocutor. The recordings were conducted on a monthly basis. The proficiency levels of all L2s were tested in written tests, based on the CEFR scale. The results show that the proficiency level in the L2s has an impact on the transfer source. The L2s at C1+ level were not transferred, but L2s with lower proficiency levels were. These results confirm what is predicted by the L2 status factor (Bardel & Falk, 2012), namely that a high-proficiency L2 can lose its status as an L2, approaching L1 status, which makes it less susceptible to transfer. The study also confirms the value of case studies in L3 research.

Keywords: lexical transfer, proficiency, L3 learning, oral production

Section A