Working Memory in Bilinguals and Second Language Learners


The study of bilingualism and working memory is a relatively new area in the United States. It is important to conduct research on bilingualism in order to prepare our educators, parents, speech pathologists and businesses to accommodate the rising bilingual population. This study compares the working memory span of three groups: French-English bilinguals, English speakers learning French, and English monolinguals.

Working memory is the short-term storage of information that is processed in a variety of cognitive tasks including language comprehension (Baddeley, 1986). According to some theories, bilinguals have weaker working memory than monolinguals (Service, et al, 2002); however I would like to challenge that theory with a unique method to test working memory. Therefore, the premise of this study is that people beginning to learn a second language may have cognitive deficit in working memory, and, as they reach a higher proficiency of the second language, their working memory will strengthen to accommodate both languages. The main hypothesis of the study is the working memory span of the true bilinguals will be significantly higher than monolinguals and second language learners. Fifty-nine participants were tested by this unique method of measuring ones working memory span. French and English word lists appeared on the computer screen and were spoken through the computer speakers -- each word was presented one at a time for one second. After all the words from each list were presented, participants recalled all the words they remembered by writing them down or saying them into a recorder. The amount of words recalled correctly was recorded as working memory span. The results were analyzed using a repeated measures analysis on the factors of the method of presentation, recall, language and condition. The results from this experiment allow me to conclude that there is correlation between working memory and bilingualism. The bilingual group recalled significantly more words than the French learners and monolinguals. Therefore, the conclusion can be drawn that bilinguals have the largest working memory store. The French learners had a smaller working memory span in French than in English. The success of the working memory span tests depended on expertise in the language as the monolinguals did not recall the French lists as well as the other groups. Additional analyses were done on the methods of presentation and recall which yielded significant results. It is one-step closer to understanding a bilingual mind.


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Thesis Completion





Sims, Valerie


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Program



Arts and Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Sciences; French language -- Study and teaching







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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