Working Memory and L2 Vocabulary Learning Rate

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The present study is an attempt to gain insights into working memory as an important component of L2 aptitude and to provide empirical evidence for the investigation of the relation between working memory and L2 vocabulary learning rate.


Research has suggested that working memory (WM) plays a vital role in second language acquisition. (Mackey, Philp, Fujii, & Tatsumi 2002, Williams 1999). Many SLA researchers have proposed that WM is a central part of L2 aptitude or to some extent, WM even is an L2 aptitude (Robinson 2002, Skehan 2002). WM involves ‘the temporary storage and manipulation of information’ necessary for the operation of complex cognitive tasks (Hummel & Holyoak 2003); WM therefore is an indicator of our capacity for thinking and for language processing. The present study will be empirically examining the possible relation between WM working memory and L2 vocabulary learning to test the hypothesis that the capacity of WM is correlated with vocabulary learning rate.

Background of literature

A WM model first proposed by Baddeley and Hitch in 1974 consists of three basic components: the central executive, the phonological loop and the visual/ spatial sketchpad. In 2000 this model was extended with the multimodal episodic buffer. The central executive directs information to the three processes: the phonological loop, the visual/ spatial sketchpad, and the episodic buffer. The phonological loop stores audio information while the visual/ spatial sketchpad stores spatial and visual information. The episodic buffer is to integrate audio, visual, and spatial information.

Figure 7: Baddeley and Hitch's working memory model

On the cognitive and psycholinguistic ground, much importance has been attach...

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Service, E. (1992). Phonology, working memory, and foreign-language learning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 45A, 21-50.

Skehan, P. (2002). Theorizing and updating aptitude. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Individual differences and instructed language learning (pp. 69–93). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning Oxford: Oxford University Press

Williams, J. N. (1999). Memory, aptitude, and inductive learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 21, 1–48
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