Investigating WM effects in SLA (2014)

Author(s): Wright C

    Abstract: Abstract Recent findings have found a robust connection between greater working memory (WM) capacity and rapid, successful acquisition of L2 vocabulary, reading and oral fluency and syntactic processing (Fortkamp 1999; Harrington and Sawyer 1992; Service 1992). However, other studies have found no such correlation (Juffs 2004; Mizera 2006; Sagarra 2000), and little is yet clearly established about the relationship between WM and L2 grammatical development. This study adds to the growing body of research by investigating correlations between WM and processing English wh-structures by adult Chinese learners of English. Two issues were addressed: the assumption that greater WM would facilitate processing for taught L2 structures that had been consciously noticed and attended through instruction (such as simple matrix wh-questions), compared to untaught structures (such as subjacency violations). The second issue aimed to investigate how WM is assumed to operate in L1 and L2, and in particular to investigate the concept of the episodic buffer, proposed in the latest model of WM (Baddeley 2000), using innovative story recall tasks. The study reported here found mixed results for correlations between WM and accuracy on timed grammaticality judgements on a range of wh-question structures, using a range of WM tests in both L1 and L2. However, there was no clear association between WM capacity and simple instructed forms as expected. In addition, evidence of wide inconsistent results across the WM tasks emphasise that the methodology of testing WM for L2 learners remains challenging, compared to the rich research evidence using standardised WM tests in L1 (as covered, for example, in the special issue of Applied Psycholinguistics on non-word repetition, 2007 (1)). These methodological challenges and theoretical implications are discussed, and suggestions are made for how further research on the role of WM in L2 acquisition will help understand the complex representation of grammatical knowledge in the L2 mind.

    Notes: This article, currently being revised, aims to be submitted during 2013. The research topic has been deemed high in originality and significance after advice from leading researchers in the field (Juffs, Dussias, Marinis). Key points - unusual combination of psycholinguistic theory applied to longitudinal L2 development, rather than single-point processing capacities. Critical evaluation of current most used model of Working Memory (WM, Baddeley 2007); original development of own L1 and L2 matched WM tests. High level of academic rigour in applying cross-disciplinary theories, models and methodologies to L2 development research. To author's knowledge, this study is unique in design, with important implications for theories and models of WM in L2 research.

    • Alternate Journal: Journal of Language Teaching and Research
    • Journal: Studia Linguistica
    • Publication type: Article
    • Bibliographic status: In Preparation