Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Bilingual Recognition Memory: Stronger Performance but Weaker Levels-of-Processing Effects in the Less Fluent Language

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Bilingual Recognition Memory: Stronger Performance but Weaker Levels-of-Processing Effects in the Less Fluent Language

Article excerpt

Published online: 16 November 2011

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2011

Abstract The effects of bilingual proficiency on recognition memory were examined in an experiment with Spanish- English bilinguals. Participants learned lists of words in English and Spanish under shallow- and deep-encoding conditions. Overall, hit rates were higher, discrimination greater, and response times shorter in the nondominant language, consistent with effects previously observed for lower frequency words. Levels-of-processing effects in hit rates, discrimination, and response time were stronger in the dominant language. Specifically, with shallow encoding, the advantage for the nondominant language was larger than with deep encoding. The results support the idea that memory performance in the nondominant language is impacted by both the greater demand for cognitive resources and the lower familiarity of the words.

Keywords Recognition . Bilingualism . Levels of processing .Word frequency

Bilingual individuals often report difficulty encoding and remembering information in their less fluent language (L2), relative to their more fluent language (L1). Supporting this intuition, previous research has provided some evidence that bilingual recall is worse in L2 (e.g., Durgunoðlu & Roediger, 1987; Glanzer & Duarte, 1971; Lopez & Young, 1974; Nott&Lambert, 1968). In contrast, repetition-priming results have shown that, in some paradigms, bilinguals show a greater benefit from experimental exposures in L2 (Francis, Augustini, & Sáenz, 2003; Francis & Gallard, 2005; Francis & Goldmann, 2011). However, it remains unknown how language proficiency affects recognition memory. Recognition memory has been examined in two bilingual studies. The first did not report L1 and L2 data separately (Kintsch, 1970), and the second had only one test language (Durgunoðlu & Roediger, 1987). Therefore, little is known about relative recognition performance in L1 and L2. The present study investigated the effects of bilingual proficiency on recognition memory. As is explained in the following paragraphs, different hypotheses about bilingual recognition memory performance in L2, relative to performance in L1, can be derived on the basis of the greater cognitive load associated with processing L2 words or on the basis of the lower familiarity of L2 words relative to L1 words. These two conceptualizations make opposite predictions.

Bilingual memory processes

Despite calculations suggesting that more than half of the world's population is bilingual (Harris & McGhee-Nelson, 1992), few models of memory have incorporated bilingualism or bilingual proficiency constructs.1 The most studied issue in bilingual memory has been whether memory representations depend on the original encoding language. Research in this area indicates that translation equivalents of concrete nouns access common conceptual representations in episodic and semantic memory (see Francis, 1999, 2005, for extensive reviews). However, the efficiency and completeness of L1 and L2 encoding may not be equivalent. Since comparisons of L1 and L2 memory performance were not a major focus of past research, many studies had "balanced" bilingual participants who would be unlikely to show language differences. Also, most studies did not have full factorial designs; some used only one test language, and others included only between-language conditions. In some cases, L1 and L2 data were simply not reported separately. Thus, few studies tested and reported withinlanguage memory performance in each language for bilinguals who had a clear L1, and these studies did not focus on recognition memory.

The present research focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which bilingual language proficiency impacts memory processes. In the absence of an established theory of bilingual proficiency and memory, we use ideas from other domains of bilingual research and from other domains of memory research to make predictions about bilingual memory. …

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