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Working Memory Capacity, Inhibitory Control and the Role of L2 Proficiency in Aging L1 Dutch Speakers of Near-Native L2 English

DOI: 10.3390/brainsci3031261

Keywords: working memory capacity, inhibitory control, near-nativeness, L2 proficiency, aging

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This paper examines the intricate relationship between working memory (WM) capacity and inhibitory control as a function of both L2 proficiency and age. In both its design and research questions, this study closely follows Gass & Lee’s work, where both L1 and L2 Reading Span Tasks (as measures of WM capacity) and L1 and L2 Stroop interference tasks (to measure inhibitory control) were administered. In this study, the test battery is augmented by both an L1 and L2 C-test of overall language proficiency. Participants were 63 L1 Dutch speakers of L2 English, who had been immersed in an L2 environment for a considerable amount of time. Their data were set off against those of 54 monolingual Dutch speakers and 56 monolingual English speakers. At the time of testing, all the bilingual participants had a near-native command of English and their L1 and L2 WM scores were not found to be significantly different. However, discrepancies did occur in Stroop test scores of inhibition, where the bilinguals performed better in their L2 English than L1 Dutch. These main effects often contradicted the results found in Gass & Lee’s study, who examined less proficient L2 learners. An aging effect was furthermore found: older subjects consistently performed more poorly on WM and inhibition tasks than their younger peers. These results can shed light on how individual factors like WM capacity and inhibitory control interact in successful late bilinguals and how these dynamics shift with advanced age.


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