Seventeen percent of US American schoolchildren are
Hispanic, nearly half of whom speak mostly Spanish,
or Spanish and English equally, at home (Llagas, 2003).
The academic and cognitive performance of these children
may be impacted by their linguistic background and
the relationship between language and learning. For
example, Marian and Neisser (2000) proposed the hypothesis
of language-dependent memory, suggesting that memories
become more accessible when the language of retrieval
matches the language of encoding, an idea based on
the encoding specificity principle (Tulving & Thompson,
1973). Patterns of language-dependent retrieval have
been reported in a number of studies of episodic memory
in bilinguals (e.g., Javier, Barroso & Muņoz, 1993;
Marian & Neisser, 2000; Marian, Kaushanskaya & Fausey,
2003; Otoya, 1987; Schrauf & Rubin, 2000). The present
study examined the effect of language on semantic
memory by testing learning in fluent bilingual speakers
of Chilean Spanish and English. Academic-type information
(about History, Chemistry, Mythology and Biology)
was taught in either Spanish or English (in counterbalanced
order) and memory was tested in the two languages.
The study followed a 2x2x2 design, with Language of
Encoding (Spanish or English), Language of Retrieval
(Spanish or English) and Type of Information (Lexical,
e.g., names of people and places, or Semantic, e.g.,
concepts and ideas) as independent variables, and
response accuracy as the dependent variable. Results
revealed that participants' memory was better when
the language of retrieval matched the language of
encoding than when the two did not match. In addition
to language-dependent memory, results show that memory
for semantic material was better than memory for lexical
material, suggesting that type of information affects
accessibility. Material encoded in Spanish was remembered
better than material encoded in English, suggesting
that language proficiency and linguistic experience
influence ability to encode new information. This
reinforces the idea that care should be taken when
testing cognitive abilities of bilinguals, with efforts
made whenever possible to conduct the testing in a
bilingual's stronger, more proficient language. The
study underscores the many influences on bilingual
learning and has applied implications for bilingual
education as well as theoretical implications for
understanding the relationship between memory and
language. Practically, the language-dependent memory
pattern may serve as a partial explanation for the
lower academic achievement reported for Hispanic students
in American schools (e.g., Coltrane, 2002; Llagas,
2003). Theoretically, it may support a "thinking-for-speaking"
relationship between language and memory (e.g., Slobin,
2003) and may inform debates about the nature of semantic
knowledge in bilinguals (e.g., Spelke & Tsivkin, 2001),
with some types of knowledge possibly more susceptible
to language-dependency effects than others.
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