Date of Award

1-1-2013

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

Paul Malovrh

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the relationships between working memory (WM) and three commonly used learning strategies or conditions in the nature of proficiency among adult L2 Russian learners. Based on the aptitude-learning condition interaction framework articulated by Robinson (2002b), the study identifies two types of relationships between the fixed variables of working memory and learning condition, and four variables related to second language proficiency (SLP) in Russian: accuracy, fluency, overall general proficiency or `native-likeness', and the occurrence of potentially fossilized forms in speech. Three main learning contexts were identified, including strictly naturalistic conditions resulting from immersion in-country (NC), naturalistic learning followed by formal learning experiences (NF), and formal training followed by naturalistic learning through immersion (FN).

37 participants were recruited, including naturalistic learners (n = 12), naturalistic/formal (n = 12), and formal/naturalistic participants (n=13). A proficiency interview was used to test learners for their L2 Russian proficiency, including measures for fluency, overall proficiency or native-likeness, accuracy via the elicitation of three prevalent structures in native speech, and the presence of potentially fossilized inter language (IL) forms. Based on proficiency scores and answers provided on an experience-related questionnaire, three experiments were conducted. The first experiment tests for predictive relationships between WM and the four aspects of proficiency for each learning condition. The second experiment investigates potential

interactions between WM and the three learning conditions in relation to the main aspects of proficiency. A third experiment tests for correlations between the amount of formal training and accuracy-related measures for the two combined (NF and FN) learning contexts.

The results of a logistic regression indicate significant predictive correlations between working memory and accuracy, and a negative correlation with the rate of potential fossilization for the naturalistic condition. No predictive significance for WM alone and aspects of proficiency was found in either NF or FN conditions. The second experiment yielded results indicating a significant interaction between WM and naturalistic conditions for fluency, and significance for interactions between WM and the amount of formal training for both accuracy and general proficiency for the formal/naturalistic (FN) context. The third experiment found predictive correlations between the amount of formal training and fossilization for the FN condition. The study found no significant correlations for the NF context. Results are interpreted to signify differential effects in relationships between WM and the major aspects of proficiency among different conditions, with an evident impact of the order or sequence of naturalistic and formal experience for the combined contexts. It appears that working memory does not act alone, but interacts with the nature of learning conditions to affect proficiency. Significant correlations between the amount of formal instruction and accuracy-related measures including fossilization are indicated.

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