Working memory capacity and narrative task performance

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This study, which I co-authored with Judit Kormos, investigated the link between working memory capacity and narrative task performance. The participants of the study were 44 secondary school students in their second academic year of an English-Hungarian bilingual educational program in Hungary. The backward digit span test was used to measure participants’ working memory capacity. The students performed two narrative tasks of different degrees of cognitive complexity: one with a given story line and another where the content of the narrative had to be invented. Four global aspects performance were measured: fluency, lexical complexity, accuracy, and grammatical complexity. Task-specific measures included the ratio of correctly used relative clauses, verbs, and past-tense verbs, as well as the ratio of relative clauses compared to the total number of clauses. Results showed that the effect of working memory capacity on students’ narrative performance was limited to one of the tasks, which involved narrating a picture story. Further results indicated that the linguistic variables that differentiated students with different working memory spans were the average length of clauses and the subordination ratio. These findings suggest that high working memory capacity might allow students to produce narratives with high clausal complexity, but it might not be conducive to directing learners’ attention to specific dimensions of the task such as subordination. This study formed part of the research project that I undertook for my PhD dissertation. The novelty of the project was the combination of task-based language teaching research (the examination of the effect of cognitive task complexity on L2 performance) with research on individual differences (the study of how working memory, foreign language aptitude and anxiety influence and underpin L2 performance). Dr Kormos worked with me on this project in the capacity of supervisor of my dissertation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSecond Language Task Complexity Researching the Cognition Hypothesis of language learning and performance : Researching the Cognition Hypothesis of language learning and performance
EditorsPeter Robinson
Number of pages19
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Publication date2011
ISBN (Print)978 90 272 0719 7
ISBN (Electronic)978 90 272 9027 4
Publication statusPublished - 2011