Verbs and prepositions pose significant challenges in second language learning, as languages differ in how they map these relational terms onto events. Second language learners must put aside their language-specific lens to uncover how a new language operates, perhaps having to rediscover semantic distinctions typically ignored in the first language. The current study examines how the acquisition of these novel mappings are affected by characteristics of the learner and of the language to be learned. English monolinguals and Dutch-English bilinguals learned novel terms that corresponded to containment and support relations of either English, Dutch, or Japanese. Results show that English distinctions are learned best across groups, potentially reflecting predispositions in human cognition. No differences were found between monolinguals and bilinguals in any language condition. The characteristics of the language to be learned appear to play a prominent role in the acquisition of novel semantic categories.