Working Memory in the Acquisition of Vocabulary and Syntax: Putting Language in Good Order

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This paper argues that working memory is heavily involved in language acquisition as (a) a major part of language learning is the learning of sequences, (b) working memory allows short-term maintenance of sequence information, and (c) short-term rehearsal of sequences promotes the consolidation of long-term memories of language sequences. It first reviews evidence supporting this position. Next it presents an experiment that demonstrates that subjects encouraged to rehearse foreign language (FL) utterances are better than both silent controls and subjects who are prevented from rehearsal by articulatory suppression at (a) learning to comprehend and translate FL words and phrases, (b) explicit metalinguistic knowledge of the detailed content of grammatical regularities, (c) acquisition of the FL forms of words and phrases, (d) accuracy in FL pronunciation, and (e) some aspects of productive (but not receptive) grammatical fluency and accuracy. Finally, it describes possible mechanisms underlying these effects.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 1996

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