Photographer: Eduard Lampe

Ms T.M. (Tessa) Spätgens MSc

  • Faculty of Humanities
    Capaciteitsgroep Taalwetenschap
  • Visiting address
    P.C. Hoofthuis
    Spuistraat 134  
  • Postal address:
    Spuistraat  134
    1012 VB  Amsterdam
    T: 0205254442

About me

I studied Linguistics at Radboud University Nijmegen and Evolution of Language and Cognition at the University of Edinburgh. During my studies, I have dived into a range of fields, varying from creole linguistics and early (foreign) language education to language universals from an evolutionary perspective. The main theme that links these topics is my strong interest in language acquisition. The way people acquire languages, the obstacles they run into along the way and the outcome of their efforts (be it on the individual level, within societies or through time) are very fascinating to me.

About my project

My PhD project, supervised by dr. Rob Schoonen and  prof. dr. Jan Hulstijn, is called 'Developing semantic networks and language proficiency of Dutch L1 and L2 children'. The goal is to investigate the relationship between deep word knowledge (including the accessibility of this knowledge) and reading proficiency in young L1 and L2 learners of Dutch. Reading comprehension is of great importance for school success and L2 learners are often found to lag behind in their reading comprehension skills in comparison to L1 learners. Various studies have found a relation between deep vocabulary knowledge and reading skills. The exact form of this relation remains unclear however, and the question whether differences in deep semantic knowledge between L1 and L2 learners might be (partially) responsible for differences in reading proficiency still stands as well. In this project I will focus on children's knowledge of meaning relations and their automatic access to this knowledge. Specifically, I will focus on contextual (i.e. dog   - cute) and decontextualized (i.e. dog - animal) meaning relations. Knowledge of decontextualized meaning relations may be particularly useful for reading comprehension, as it may help to link information across sentences.
Priming paradigms involving both single words and text fragments will be used to assess knowledge of contextual and decontextualized meaning relations, and to find possible differences between L1 and L2 learners. Apart from testing reading proficiency using standardized tests, I will also look at reading behavior using eye-tracking, to see whether deep word knowledge also influences the way children read.

Keywords: language acquisition, reading proficiency, deep word knowledge, psycholinguistics, semantic priming, eye-tracking.


  • Spätgens, T., & Schoonen, R. (2018). The semantic network, lexical access, and reading comprehension in monolingual and bilingual children: An individual differences study. Applied Psycholinguistics, 39(1), 225-256. DOI: 10.1017/S0142716417000224  [details] 


  • Spätgens, T. M., & Schoonen, R. (2017). An individual differences study on the semantic network, lexical access and reading comprehension in L1 and L2 children. Poster session presented at 14th International Congress for the Study of Child Language, Lyon, France.

Talk / presentation

  • Spätgens, Tessa (speaker) & Schoonen, Rob (speaker) (29-5-2017): The multiple word association task in young language learners and its potential for the study of semantic knowledge development, Psycholinguistics in Flanders 16, Leuven, Belgium.
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