Links between phonological memory, first language competence and second language competence in 10-year-old children

Vulchanova, M. 1 , Foyn, C. H. . 1 , Nilsen, R. 1 & Sigmundsson, H. 2

1 Language Acquisition and Language Processing Lab, Norwegian University of Science & Technology
2 Department of Psychology, Norwegian University of Science & Technology

84 Norwegian 10 year old children were tested in short-term memory, L1 language competence (semantics and grammar) and L2 skills (vocabulary and comprehension). While previous studies have shown strong relationship between short-term phonological memory and L1 competencies, the extent to which specific language competencies correlate which each other, and the extent to which competencies in the L1 correlate with skills in the L2 is still open to debate. We aimed to establish whether such links can be found in Norwegian children. Our results convincingly demonstrate that language competence is related to phonological short-term memory, in support of previous studies. We find strong correlations between short-term memory, competencies in the L1 and skills in the L2, suggesting that memory may be a common underlying mechanism in language learning. We also find reliable correlations between specific competencies in the L1 (lexical knowledge/ grammar), and between vocabulary size and sentence comprehension in the L2. A regression analysis indicates that phonological short-term memory predicts skills and competencies in the first language, while L2 skills are predicted by short-term memory together with competencies in the L1 (L2 comprehension), and only by L1 competencies, but not short-term memory, in the case of L2 vocabulary size.