Working memory and SLA

Authored by: John N. Williams

The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415479936
eBook ISBN: 9780203808184
Adobe ISBN: 9781136666896

10.4324/9780203808184.ch26

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Abstract

The term working memory (WM) refers to a temporary storage system that lies at the core of complex cognition. Everyday tasks such as remembering a phone number, mental arithmetic, or playing chess, place varying levels of demand on the WM system. Remembering an unfamiliar phone number long enough to dial it involves storing the number in short-term memory, and perhaps repeating it silently to oneself. Multiplying 26 by 7 in your head involves storing the digits produced by multiplying 6 and 7 (4 and 2) while multiplying 2 and 7, adding the carried 4 and retrieving the stored 2 to give the final answer of 182. Skilled chess playing involves strategic planning of a sequence of moves whilst retaining multiple piece configurations in short-term memory. These tasks not only require short-term storage of information, but also a high degree of control of that information in order to maintain partial results whilst carrying out further processing, or to resist interference between similar items of information. Thus, WM can be regarded as a system that is used for the temporary maintenance of task-relevant information whilst performing cognitive tasks.

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