Working Memory, Processing Speed, and Executive Memory Contributions to Computer-Assisted Second Language Learning

 

How individual differences in information processing affect second language (L2) learning has been unclear in prior research. Adults lacking prior skill in Swedish were pretested for working memory, processing speed, and executive memory capacity. Participants then received 6 computer-based instructional sessions with pictorial animations of Swedish sentences, with a built-in experimental contrast between some lessons at high and some at low rates of presentation. The faster rate carried greater processing demands for the learners. Higher levels of Swedish performance during Instructional sessions were associated with higher working memory levels, as expected from widely-used models of working memory (e.g., Baddeley & Hitch, 1994). In contrast, results at demanding long-term retrieval on a posttest were more complex and revealed several dynamic relationships between processing speed, working memory, and Swedish language learning. Learners with low rather than high working memory showed higher L2 skills at long-term testing when instructional lessons had employed fast animations. This first-time demonstration that prior cognitive profiles strongly influence learners’ progress in second language requires refinements in existing theories. Further, the results hold certain implications for tailoring second language teaching on-line or in other technology-based instruction to learner profiles on abilities in working memory, processing speed, and executive memory