Reference : Working memory and learning: Evidence from a population of trilingual children
Scientific congresses, symposiums and conference proceedings : Poster
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Theoretical & cognitive psychology
Working memory and learning: Evidence from a population of trilingual children
Engel de Abreu, Pascale mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Educational Measurement and Applied Cognitive Science (EMACS)]
Gathercole, S []
Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development
2-4 April, 2009
[en] working memory ; phonological loop ; central executive ; learning
[en] The aim of the present study was to investigate the contribution of two working
memory systems (the phonological loop and the central executive) to children’s learning in
the areas of vocabulary, language comprehension, reading, writing, mathematical skills, and
foreign language acquisition. The term working memory refers to the ability to store and
manipulate information in mind for a brief period of time, in the course of ongoing cognitive
activities (Baddeley, 2000).
A sample of 119 Luxembourgish children, learning German and French as secondary
languages were assessed longitudinally over a 3-year time period. In Luxembourg, children
learn to speak, read, and write in 2 languages that are different from their native language
Luxembourgish. A battery of working memory, native and foreign language tests was
administered. Mathematical ability was assessed via a teacher assessment questionnaire.
Children were tested in Kindergarten (5 years of age), in 1st, and in 2nd grade with a one year
interval between each testing wave. Multiple assessments of each construct made it possible
to construct latent variables, and apply structural equation modeling techniques to explore the
underlying theoretical structure of working memory in young children, and possible links
with learning.
Results indicate that relations between the working memory measures were best
characterized by a model consisting of two related but separable constructs –
corresponding to the phonological loop and the central executive. Examination of the
correlation estimates between each construct with itself across the three measurement
occasions revealed that individual differences in phonological loop and central executive
are remarkably stable from Kindergarten through second grade. The data further showed
that assessments of the phonological loop in Kindergarten were strongly associated with
vocabulary knowledge and comprehension in native and foreign languages in 1st and 2nd
grade and manifested a weaker, but significant, relationship with reading, writing, and
mathematics up to two years later. Central executive in Kindergarten significantly
predicted reading in 1st grade.
The findings lend strong support to the position that the phonological loop is one of
the main contributors to new word learning in both native and non-native languages by
supporting the formation of stable phonological representations of new words in longterm
memory. Phonological loop processing also seems to play a significant role in the
syntactic comprehension of sentences. The heard material might be kept active in the
phonological loop while the child is listening to the sentence and processing it for
comprehension. Finally, working memory appears to make significant contributions to
reading, writing, and mathematic skills. Literacy and math classroom activities often
impose heavy demands on working memory, the capacity of which therefore might have a
direct effect on the frequency of task failure or success in these classroom activities.
In conclusion, the presented evidence of (a) the stability of individual differences in
young children’s working memory capacity and, (b) causal relations of working memory with
learning reinforces the value of early screening of working memory abilities to identify
children who are at risk of poor academic progress over the coming years.

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