Natasha Tokowicz, Ph.D.

  • Professor, Psychology
  • Senior Scientist, Learning Research and Development Center
  • Associate Dean for Equity, Faculty Development, and Community Engagement


Graduate Student Advisees: NOTE: not accepting graduate stduents for the 2024-2025 year

  • Diya Goyal

  • Gabriela Terrazas Duarte

  • Victoria Tkacikova

  • Andrea Tovar

Education & Training

  • PhD, Penn State University

Research Interest Summary

Adult Second Language Learning; Bilingualism

Research Interests

Our main line of research focuses on adult L2 word learning and processing. Most of the work in this area examines the role of translation ambiguity, which occurs when a word in one language has more than one translation to another language. For example, the German word Kiefer translates to the two English words pine and jaw. We ask questions like: Are translation ambiguous words harder to learn? [Yes!] Can the difficulties associated with learning these words be alleviated during instruction? [Somewhat!] And, are there consequences of learning translation-ambiguous words in a second language for your native language? [Yes again!] We conduct training studies to examine these questions, in addition to testing more proficient bilinguals (and in some cases, individuals who were bilinguals from an early age).

A second line of research asks the extent to which non-native speakers are sensitive to violations of (morpho)syntax in their second language. In these studies, we emphasize the role of cross-language similarity, and have lately included instructional manipulations as well. We use training studies as well as studies of more proficient speakers (including ESL speakers). 

We are interested in the role of individual differences in language learning, and want to understand why some people are better at learning languages than others. Some of the individual difference factors we explore are related to executive functioning like working memory capacity, whereas others are less cognitive-related, such as musical ability and musical training.

Representative Publications

Tokowicz, N., Rice, C., & Ekves, Z. (in press). Learning the two translations of translation-ambiguous words: Simultaneous vs. consecutive presentation. Second Language Research. [Z. Ekves' Honors Project]

Wiener, S., & Tokowicz, N. (2021). Language proficiency is only part of the story: Lexical access in heritage and non-heritage bilinguals. Second Language Research, 37, 681–695.

Rice, C. A., & Tokowicz, N. (2020). A review of laboratory studies of adult second language vocabulary training. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 42, 439-470.

Rice, C. A., Tokowicz, N., Fraundorf, S. H., & Liburd, T. L. (2019). The complex interactions of context availability, polysemy, word frequency and orthographic variables during lexical processing. Memory & Cognition, 47, 1297-1313.

Tokowicz, N. (2019). The critical roles of errors and individual differences in bilingual translation. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 22, 697–698.

Bracken, J., Degani, T., Eddington, C. M., & Tokowicz, N. (2017). Translation semantic variability: How semantic relatedness affects learning of translation-ambiguous words. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 20, 783-794. [J. Bracken's Undergraduate Honor's Project]

Tokowicz, N. (2014). Lexical processing and second language acquisition. Invited contribution to P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognitive Science and Second Language Acquisition Book Series. New York: Routledge.

Accepting Graduate Students