Working Memory as a Component of Foreign Language Aptitude
Keywords: Working Memory; Foreign Language Aptitude; Learning Processes; Syntactic Rules; Reading Span Test
School of Foreign Languages,
Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University,
Dr. Yuncai Dai is currently a Professor in the School of Foreign Languages, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University, China. His research interests include individual differences in second language acquisition, second language sentence processing, and aptitude-treatment interaction
Although foreign language aptitude (FLA) has consistently been proved to be one of the best predictors of the outcomes of second language acquisition (SLA) among a wide range of variables, the study of traditional FLA has experienced marginalization in the past thirty years or so due to the shortcomings in its conception and construct. In order to overcome the drawbacks and keep abreast with ongoing developments and trends in SLA mainstream research, many scholars propose that working memory (WM) could be a crucial component of FLA because it is a specific ability in comparison with the composite FLA, and by which language aptitude could be linked with the learning processes. Aiming to verify this proposal empirically, the present study has administered two experiments to two groups of participants at different language proficiency levels. In Experiment One, a total of 92 Chinese students from two entire classes in the second year of junior high school received classroom instruction on English relative clauses (RCs), and were assessed by two measures, the test of RCs and a Computerized Chinese Reading Span Test. The results reveal that learners with large and medium size of WM capacity perform significantly better in the test of RCs than those with small size of WM capacity. In Experiment Two, two classes of 50 sophomores majoring in English at a Chinese university were measured by three tests, a Computerized Chinese Reading Span Test, two sections of Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT), Paired Associates and Words in Sentences, and a translation test of complex sentences. The findings indicate that WM is substantially correlated with the learning of complex syntactic rules, whereas rote memory and analytic language ability are not; besides, no significant correlations are found among WM, analytic ability and rote memory. The results of the two experiments are then discussed in terms of the underlying processes of WM, task demands as well as the nature of FLA. Based on the empirical findings and theoretical analyses, it is argued that WM could be a potential component of FLA.