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Automatic lexical processing, such as accessing and retrieving the correct meaning of a word quickly and automatically in reading, is fundamental for successful and fluent language use. However, the focus of the previous studies has been limited to the processing of single words. No study has investigated whether skilled recognition of newly learned multiword expressions, such as cook the books, can be fostered by training as predicted by skill acquisition theory. The present study, therefore, investigated the effects of multiword-recognition training on the development of automaticity in collocation-recognition processing, and also examined the roles of first language (L1) congruency (having word-for-word translation equivalents in L1), training condition (verbatim repetition vs. varied repetition), working memory capacity, and procedural learning ability in automatization of collocation recognition.

 Seventy-two Korean learners of English were assigned to one of two experimental conditions (verbatim repetition and varied repetition conditions). All the participants engaged in three training sessions. The training consisted of a series of fill-in-the-blank exercises that only differed in terms of training materials. The target items for the training consisted of 16 congruent (corresponding to the participants’ L1) and 16 incongruent verb-noun phrases in English. Two tests (phrasal decision task and sentence-and-word recall task) were used to assess the participants’ learning gains from the training.

 In line with the predictions of skill acquisition theory, the results showed that repeated practice through explicit vocabulary exercises led to significant improvement in recognition performance of collocations in terms of speed, processing stability and cognitive capacity usage. L1 congruency was found to play a facilitative role in collocation-recognition speed only in the early stages of learning. No reliable evidence for differential effects of the two types of training condition on developing automaticity in collocation recognition was found in the current study. Working memory played a facilitative role in collocation-recognition performance as measured by the sentence-and-word recall task but not in collocation-recognition speed or processing stability as measured by the phrasal decision task. On the other hand, no reliable evidence for a facilitative role of procedural learning ability in automatization of collocation recognition was found.