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Bilingual working memory capacity of professional Auslan / English interpreters

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This study investigated bilingual working memory capacity (WMC) of 31 professional Auslan (Australian Sign Language)/English interpreters: 14 native signers and 17 non-native signers. Participants completed an English listening span task and then an Auslan working memory (WM) span task, each task followed by a brief interview. The native signers were similar to the non-native signers not only in English WMC, but also in Auslan WMC. There was no significant difference between WMC in English and Auslan when native and non-native signers were assessed as a single group. The study also found a moderate to strong, positive correlation between the interpreters’ English WMC and Auslan WMC, suggesting that both WM span tasks tapped into similar cognitive resources. In the interviews, interpreters said that they used multiple strategies to retain the to-be-remembered words/signs. The qualitative data also indicate that WM span tasks like these involve online retention of unrelated words/signs, whereas simultaneous interpreting requires temporary storage of meaningful and coherent concepts.
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Keywords: native signers; non-native signers; signed language interpreters; test language effect; working memory capacity

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting
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