What type of practice is better for learning grammar?

Contributor: Cassidy Livingston | Reviewer: Raquel Reinagel | Date: 2022-02-02

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Overview of the Study

The study investigated whether distributed practice or massed practice was better for learning grammar. In this study, distributed practice was described as practicing a concept over a period of time, for example, one week apart. Massed practice, on the other hand, was defined as practice that is close together. Previous research on distributed and massed practice has mostly been conducted by the field of cognitive psychology, which has found that distributed practice is better than massed practice for learning. In terms of grammar learning, there was only one former study on the topic, and that study echoed the results found in cognitive psychology. Since the previous study on learning grammar was a written task, the researchers in this study wanted to look at learners completing a speaking task with higher complexity. This study split participants into two groups, which are distributed and massed practice. It looked at the acquisition of the Japanese –te form, which is most commonly used for the present progressive. There was a pre-test and three post-tests with two practice sessions to see how participants performed over time. The results showed no significant difference on one of the measures; the other measure showed a benefit for massed practice. When considered with the prior research on learning grammar, the level of the learner may indicate whether massed or distributed practice is better.

Research Method

40 beginner-level learners of Japanese participated in this study. All of the participants had previously studied the form being investigated in the study. The participants were split into either the massed practice group or the distributed practice group. The massed practice group had one day between training sessions and the distributed practice group had seven days between practice sessions. The study began with a pre-test that contained two different tasks. The training sessions followed this pre-test, and then there were three post-tests. One post-test was immediately after the second training session, the second post-test was seven days later, and the final post-test was 28 days after the second training session. The post-tests used the same two tasks as the pre-test. The tasks were assessed for both accuracy and speed measures.

Task 1: Rule Application Test- Participants had to conjugate a sentence with an uninflected verb into a sentence with an inflected verb. All of the verbs used were fake verbs created to sound like Japanese.

Task 2: Picture Sentence Completion Test- Participants were given a picture with a person completing an action. They would hear the subject of the sentence, i.e. otokonohito ‘man,’ and then the participant had to complete the sentence based on what was happening in the picture.


The authors analyzed the speed measures and accuracy scores of the two groups over the four different tests. The results showed no significant difference between the distributed and massed practice groups for accuracy scores. For speed measures, the results did show that massed practice had a slight advantage.

Pedagogical Implications/Significance

Distributed practice may be more beneficial at earlier stages of learning, but at later stages, with higher-level skills that require both the knowledge of the grammar rule and the ability to apply them quickly, both massed practice and distributed practice may be equally effective.

Original Text: Suzuki, Y., & DeKeyser, R. (2017). Effects of distributed practice on the proceduralization of morphology. Language Teaching Research : LTR, 21(2), 166–188. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362168815617334

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