This dissertation is a collection of three studies, one Licenciate thesis in Italian and two papers in English. The studies investigate the role of the background languages for Swedish L1 speakers when trying to understand Italian texts, both as a beginner’s language (L3) and as an unknown language. The role of transfer from an L1 or other known languages has been thoroughly investigated in second and third language acquisition, mainly in oral production. The studies in this dissertation thesis however, examine transfer in comprehension of written text and the role that both Germanic and Romance languages plays for the comprehension of Italian.
The first study investigates the lexical inferencing strategies used by 12 upper secondary school pupils studying Italian while inferring the meaning of the unknown words in an Italian text. The second study is a case study with three university students with different background languages. They had no knowledge of Italian. It was examined which background languages that were activated and which languages led to the most correct inferences while they were trying to infer the meaning of as many words as possible in two authentic Italian texts. The method used in the first two studies was think-aloud protocols in combination with stimulated recall interviews.The third study examines the role of the background languages of 60 upper secondary school pupils while they translated (in writing) an Italian text into one of their foreign languages, English, French or Spanish. They had no knowledge of Italian and in addition to the translation task they were asked to fill in a retrospection questionnaire discussing how, and with help of which language, they were able to translate the text.