Skip to main content Accessibility help

Phonological short-term memory, working memory and foreign language performance in intensive language learning*

  • JUDIT KORMOS (a1) and ANNA SÁFÁR (a2)


In our research we addressed the question what the relationship is between phonological short-term and working memory capacity and performance in an end-of-year reading, writing, listening, speaking and use of English test. The participants of our study were 121 secondary school students aged 15–16 in the first intensive language training year of a bilingual education program in Hungary. The participants performed a non-word repetition test and took a Cambridge First Certificate Exam. Fifty students were also tested with a backward digit span test, measuring their working memory capacity. Our study indicates that phonological short-term memory capacity plays a different role in the case of beginners and pre-intermediate students in intensive language learning. The backward digit span test correlated very highly with the overall English language competence, as well as with reading, listening, speaking and use of English (vocabulary and grammar) test scores.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Judit Kormos, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, LA1 4YT,


Hide All

Judit Kormos has been supported in writing this article by the Bolyai Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.



Hide All
Baddeley, A. D. 1986. Working memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Baddeley, A. D. 2000. The episodic buffer: A new component of working memory? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 417423.
Baddeley, A. D. 2003. Working memory: Looking back and looking forward. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4, 829839.
Baddeley, A. D. & Hitch, G. J. 1974. Working memory. In Bower, G. (ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (vol. 8), pp. 4790. New York: Academic Press.
Botwinick, J. & Storandt, M. 1974. Memory, related functions and age. Springfield, IL: Thomas.
Carroll, J. B. 1981. Twenty-five years of research on foreign language aptitude. In Diller, K. C. (ed.), Individual differences and univerals in language learning aptitude, pp. 119155. Rowley, MA: Newbury House Publishers.
Carroll, J. B. & Sapon, S. M. 1959. Modern Language Aptitude Test. New York: The Psychological Corporation.
Cheung, H. 1996. Nonword span as a unique predictor of second-language vocabulary learning. Developmental Psychology, 3, 867873.
Colom, R., Shih, P. C., Flores-Mendoza, C. & Quiroga, M. A. 2006. The real relationship between short-term memory and working memory. Memory, 14, 804813.
Costa, P. T. & McCrae, R. R. 1992. NEO-PI-R: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Craik, F. I. M. 1986. A functional account of age differences in memory. In Klix, F. & Hagendorf, H. (eds.), Human memory and cognitive capabilities, pp. 409421. Amsterdam: North Holland.
Daneman, M. & Carpenter, P. A. 1980. Individual differences in working memory and reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 19, 450466.
Dörnyei, Z. 2005. The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Ehrman, M. E. & Oxford, R. L. 1995. Cognition plus: Correlates of language learning success. Modern Language Journal, 79, 6789.
Ellis, N. C. 1996. Sequencing in SLA: Phonological memory, chunking, and points of order. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18, 91126.
Ellis, N. C. 2006. Cognitive perspectives on SLA: The associative-cognitive CREED. AILA Review, 19, 100121.
Ellis, N. C. & Sinclair, S. 1996. Working memory in the acquisition of vocabulary and syntax. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 49, 234250.
Engle, R. W., Kane, M. J. & Tuholski, S. W. 1999. Individual differences in working memory capacity and what they tell us about controlled attention, general fluid intelligence, and functions of the prefrontal cortex. In Miyake, A. & Shah, P. (eds.), Models of working memory, pp. 102134. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fortkamp, M. B. M. 1999. Working memory capacity and aspects of L2 speech production. Communication and Cognition, 32, 259296.
Gardner, R. C. 1985. Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitudes and motivation. London: Edward Arnold.
Gathercole, S. E. 1995. Is nonword repetition a test of phonological memory or long-term knowledge? It all depends on the nonwords. Memory and Cognition, 23, 8394.
Gathercole, S. E. 1999. Cognitive approaches to the development of short-term memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3 (11), 410419.
Gathercole, S. E. 2006. Non-word repetition and word learning: The nature of relationship. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 513543.
Gathercole, S. E. & Alloway, T. P. 2008. Working memory and classroom learning. In Thurman, K. & Fiorello, K. (eds.), Cognitive development in K-3 classroom learning: Research applications, pp. 1538. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Gathercole, S. E., Alloway, T. P., Willis, C. S. & Adams, A. M. 2006. Working memory in children with reading disabilities. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 93, 265281.
Gathercole, S. E., Brown, L. & Pickering, S. J. 2003. Working memory assessments at school entry as longitudinal predictors of National Curriculum attainment levels. Educational and Child Psychology, 20, 109122.
Gathercole, S. E., Hitch, G. J., Service, E. & Martin, A. J. 1997. Phonological short-term memory and new word learning in children. Developmental Psychology, 33, 966979.
Gathercole, S. E., Tiffany, C., Briscoe, J., Thorn, A. S. C. & ALSPAC Team. 2005. Developmental consequences of poor phonological short-term memory function in childhood: A longitudinal study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 598611.
Hale, J. B., Hoeppner, J. A. B. & Fiorello, C. A. 2002. Analyzing digit span components for assessment of attention processes. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 20, 128143.
Harrington, M. 2001. Sentence processing. In Robinson, (ed.), pp. 91–124.
Harrington, M. & Sawyer, M. 1992. L2 working memory capacity and L2 reading skills. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 14, 2538.
Healy, A. F. & Bourne, L. E. (eds.) 1998. Foreign language learning: Psycholinguistic studies on training and retention. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Hulme, C., Maughan, S. & Brown, G. D. A. 1991. Memory for familiar and unfamiliar words: Evidence for a long-term memory contribution to short-term memory span. Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 685701.
Jeffries, S. & Everatt, J. 2004. Working memory: Its role in dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties. Dyslexia, 10, 196214.
Kormos, J. 2006. Speech production and second language acquisition. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Logie, R. H., Gilhooly, K. J. & Wynn, V. 1994. Counting on working memory in arithmetic problem solving. Memory & Cognition, 22, 395410.
Mackey, A., Philp, J., Egi, T., Fujii, A. & Tatsumi, T. 2002. Individual differences in working memory, noticing of interactional feedback, and L2 development. In Robinson, (ed.) (2002a), pp. 181–209.
Masoura, V. M. & Gathercole, S. E. 1999. Phonological short-term memory and foreign language learning. International Journal of Psychology, 34, 383388.
Masoura, V. M. & Gathercole, S. E. 2005. Phonological short-term memory skills and new word learning in young Greek children. Memory, 13, 422429.
Miyake, A. & Friedman, D. 1998. Individual differences in second language proficiency: Working memory as language aptitude. In Healy, & Bourne, (eds.), pp. 339–364.
Morra, S. 1994. Issues in working memory development: Testing for M-capacity. International Journal of Behavioral Development (Special Issue), 143–159.
O'Brien, I., Segalowitz, N., Collentine, J. & Freed, B. 2006. Phonological memory and lexical narrative, and grammatical skills in second language oral production by adult learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 377402.
Papagno, C. & Vallar, G. 1995. Verbal short-term memory and vocabulary learning in polyglots. Quarterly journal of experimental psychology, 48A (1), 98107.
Pawley, A. & Syder, F. H. 1983. Two puzzles for linguistic theory: Nativelike selection and nativelike fluency. In Richards, J. C. & Schmidt, R. W. (eds.), Language and communication, pp. 317331. London: Longman.
Racsmány, M., Lukács, Á., Németh, D. & Pléh, Cs. 2005. A verbális munkamemória magyar nyelvu vizsgálóeljárásai [Verbal working memory testing procedures in Hungarian]. Pszichológiai Szemle, 60, 479506.
Robinson, P. (ed.) 2001. Cognition and second language instruction, pp. 319353. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Robinson, P. 2002. Effects of individual differences in intelligence, aptitude and working memory on adult incidental SLA: A replication and extension of Reber, Walkenfeld and Hernstadt, 1991. In Robinson, (ed.) (2002a) pp. 211–266.
Robinson, P. (ed.) 2002a. Individual differences and instructed language learning. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Robinson, P. 2005. Aptitude and second language acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, 4573.
Sawyer, M. & Ranta, L. 2001. Aptitude, individual differences and instructional design. In Robinson, (ed.), pp. 319–353.
Schneider, E. & Crombie, M. 2003. Dyslexia and foreign language learning. London: Fulton Publishers.
Service, E. 1992. Phonology, working memory and foreign language learning. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 45A, 2150.
Service, E. & Kohonen, V. 1995. Is the relation between phonological memory and foreign language learning accounted for by vocabulary acquisition? Applied Psycholinguistics, 16, 155172.
Skehan, P. 1986. Cluster analysis and the identification of learner types. In Cook, V. (ed.), Experimental approaches to second language acquisition, pp. 8194. Oxford: Pergamon.
Skehan, P. 1989. Individual differences in second language learning. London: Edward Arnold.
Sparks, R. L. & Ganschow, E. 1991. Foreign language learning differences: Affective or native language aptitude differences? Modern Language Journal, 75, 316.
Sparks, R. & Ganschow, L. 2001. Aptitude for learning a foreign language. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 21, 90111.
Speciale, G., Ellis, N. C. & Bywater, T. 2004. Phonological sequence learning and short-term store capacity determine second language vocabulary acquisition. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 293321.
Waters, G. S. & Caplan, D. 2003. The reliability and stability of verbal working memory measures. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments & Computers, 35, 550564.
Wray, A. 2002. Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zhang, G. & Simon, H. A. 1985. STM capacity for Chinese words and idioms: Chunking and the acoustic loop hypothesis. Memory and Cognition, 13, 93201.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Phonological short-term memory, working memory and foreign language performance in intensive language learning*

  • JUDIT KORMOS (a1) and ANNA SÁFÁR (a2)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.