Effects of second language proficiency and working memory span on novel language learning

Kaitlyn L. Zavaleta, Janet L. Nicol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we examine the effects of prior language learning experience and working memory capacity on learning a novel language. Participants with a range of proficiency in a second language were trained on a third language. They were presented with 20 Turkish words (to test word-learning) and their plural counterparts (to test rule-learning). After training, participants were asked to judge whether a given label correctly matched the pictured object (comprehension) and to verbally produce the correct label for a given object (production). The comprehension test took place immediately after training and again a week later. The production test was administered after the second comprehension test. We found that performance on the initial comprehension test was predicted by working memory span but not L2 proficiency; L2 proficiency predicted learning performance only for the delayed tests. This suggests that the two variables - L2 Proficiency and Working Memory - play different roles in L3 learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-105
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Second Language Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018


  • Assessment
  • Bilingualism
  • Language learning
  • Language production
  • Proficiency
  • Second language acquisition (SLA)
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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