Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Differences in Attainment and Performance in a Foreign Language: The Role of Working Memory Capacity

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Differences in Attainment and Performance in a Foreign Language: The Role of Working Memory Capacity

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The goal of this study is to investigate the role of working memory capacity in L2 attainment and performance. The study uses an L1 reading span task to measure working memory of a group of 59 high-intermediate/advanced learners of English, and a film retelling task to measure their oral production. The analysis first showed a moderate to high correlation between proficiency measured by a general proficiency test and learners' fluency, lexical complexity, and accuracy but not structural complexity on the retelling task. Secondly, no correlation was found between overall proficiency and working memory. Thirdly, a weak correlation was found between fluency and lexical complexity, and working memory. When the group was split into top and bottom levels of proficiency, moderate correlations were found between lexical complexity and working memory only for the high-proficiency group. The results are discussed in the light of previous research.

KEY WORDS:

Working memory, language learning aptitude, fluency, lexical complexity, structural complexity, accuracy, narrative performance.

RESUMEN

El objetivo de este estudio es investigar el rol de la capacidad de memoria operativa en la proficiencia y la producción en una L2. El estudio utiliza una tarea de reading span en la L1 para medir la memoria operativa de un grupo de 59 estudiantes de inglés de nivel intermedio alto/avanzado, y una tarea narrativa para medir su producción oral. Los análisis muestran correlaciones significativas entre la proficiencia medida por un test de proficiencia general y la fluidez, complejidad léxica, y corrección, aunque no con la complejidad estructural. Las correlaciones también son positivas y significativas entre la memoria operativa y la fluidez y complejidad léxica, pero no se observa una correlación significativa entre la proficiencia general y la memoria operativa. Cuando se divide el grupo entre los niveles más altos y más bajos se encuentran correlaciones moderadas entre la complejidad léxica y la memoria operativa sólo para el grupo de proficiencia alta. Los resultados se analizan en base a los escasos trabajos previos.

PALABRAS CLAVE:

Memoria operativa, aptitud lingüística, fluidez, complejidad léxica, complejidad estructural, corrección, producción narrativa

I. INTRODUCTION

The research reported in this paper has been conducted in the context of a larger research project (BAFIA) that aims at examining the effects of starting age of learning, input and aptitude on long-term second language learning outcomes. The BAFIA research project is a partial continuation of the BAF (Barcelona Age Factor) project (see the papers that present the final results from BAF in Muñoz, 2006). As the BAF results showed, learners' cognitive abilities play a very strong role in second language (L2) learning, and may partly at least explain the higher learning rate of older children over younger children. In particular, working memory capacity has been observed to increase monotonically between 6 and 18 years of age (Siegel, 1994) and has been claimed to be the strongest predictor of L2 learning in traditional, grammar-oriented L2 lessons (Ando et al., 1992, cited in Miyake & Friedman, 1998). More specifically, in relation to age effects in L2 learning Miyake and Friedman (1998: 347) argue that working memory is associated with faster L2 learning by older children.

The goal of this paper is to investigate the role of working memory capacity in L2 attainment and performance. The following sections introduce the area of language aptitude, focusing on memory and working memory in particular. Then the central part of the paper presents a study that used a reading span task to measure working memory of a group of highintermediate/ advanced learners of English. The discussion analyzes the results in the light of L2 performance and production theories as well as in relation to findings by previous studies on the impact of working memory capacity on L2 performance and development. …

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