Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Effect of Dual N-Back Task Training on Phonological Memory Expansion in Adult EFL Learners at the Beginner Level

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Effect of Dual N-Back Task Training on Phonological Memory Expansion in Adult EFL Learners at the Beginner Level

Article excerpt


One of the most influential models of working memory (WM) is the one developed by Baddeley (1986, 2000, 2003) which views WM comprising several components-a central executive, an episodic buffer, the visuo-spatial sketchpad, and the phonological loop. The phonological loop or phonological memory (PM) deals with the temporary storage of verbal and speech-based material. This study aimed to examine the effect of dual n-back task training on the expansion of PM capacity (PMC). One hundred twenty six adult EFL learners at the beginner level were randomly assigned to the control and experimental groups. The participants in the experimental groups were involved in dual n-back task training for six weeks. Nonword repetition and nonword recognition tests were used to measure PMC. The results showed that the training on the dual n-back task had a positive and significant effect on the expansion of the participants' PMC.

Keywords: working memory, phonological memory, dual n-back task, L2 learning

1. Introduction

One of the important factors in cognitive studies related to individual differences is working memory (WM). According to Baddeley (2003, p. 189), WM refers to the "temporary storage and manipulation of information that is assumed to be necessary for a wide range of complex cognitive activities". According to the Baddeley's WM model (2003), WM consists of the central executive, phonological loop, visuo-spatial sketchpad, and episodic buffer. The phonological loop has to do with the storage of verbal, speech-based material so that it can be immediately accessed and accurately repeated back aloud or silently rehearsed (Baddeley, 2000). Phonological loop has also been interchangeably referred to as phonological memory (PM) (Hummel & French, 2010). Some scholars have highlighted PM as an important source of individual differences in L1 acquisition (e.g. Baddeley, 1986; Baddeley, 1996; Gathercole & Baddeley, 1993) and in L2 learning (e.g., Harrington & Sawyer, 1992; Papagno et al., 1991). According to Kormos and Sáfár (2008, p. 263), "as PM is responsible for remembering sequential information, its role in language learning is far greater than previously supposed."

Common tests used to measure PM are non-word repetition (hereafter NWRP) and non-word recognition (henceforth NWRC) tests. In NWRP, participants are asked to repeat non-words of various syllable lengths. As Hummel and French (2010, p. 374) put it, "the non-words generally consist of semantically empty items that follow the phonotactic structure of real words."

While working memory capacity (WMC) has long been reckoned to have a stringent limit (e.g., Cowan, 2001), growing evidence shows that WMC can be expanded though targeted training (e.g., Klingberg et al., 2005). The notion that training can significantly expand WMC has sparked great interest, and has given rise speculations that the cognitive benefits of WM training can be extensive (Jaeggi et al., 2008).

The evidence shows that WMC can be expanded and it suggests that similar effects may be possible for the PM subsystem of WM. A direct training effect on PM has in fact been reported in an L1 study with children conducted by Maridaki-Kassotaki (2002). They found that Greek-speaking children who received training on an NWRP test (15 minutes a day, four days a week) throughout their first school year outperformed matched children who did not receive such training when later tested on both NWRP and L1 reading tests. This study provides support for the notion that PMC can be expanded through specific training, with additional beneficial effects on reading skills.

As Morrison and Chein (2011) stated, generally the approaches to WM training are categorized based on their focus on domain-specific or domain-general components of the WM. One aspect of training studies examines strategy training which aim at increasing the use of domain-specific strategies that might allow trainees to remember increasing amounts of information of a particular type (e. …

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