Papers & Posters

Title of Presentation:
Learning in Spanish and English: Language-Dependent Memory in Bilinguals
Type of Presentation:
Poster presentation
Biographical Information:
Dr. Viorica Marian is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on language and memory in bilinguals and on bilingual language processing and its neural correlates.

Caitlin Fausey is an undergraduate honors Psychology student, pursuing interests in psycholinguistics, at Northwestern University.
Summary of Presentation:
An experimental study reports that bilinguals who learned and retrieved information in two languages showed better memory when the language of retrieval matched the language of encoding, a finding consistent with the language-dependent memory hypothesis. In addition, proficiency in the two languages and type of information learned influenced bilingual memory.

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.


- Coltrane, B. (2002). English Language Learners and High Stakes Tests: An Overview of the Issues. ERIC Digest.
- Davies, G.M., & Thomson, D. M. (Eds.). (1988). Memory in Context: Context in Memory.
- Chichester, U.K.: Wiley & Sons. Javier, R. A., Barroso, F., & Muņoz, M. A. (1993). Autobiographical memory in bilinguals. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 18, 449-472.
- Llagas, C. (2003). Status and Trends in the Education of Hispanics.
- Marian, V., Kaushanskaya, M., & Fausey, C. (2003). Autobiographical narratives and the self in bicultural bilinguals. Paper presented at the International Symposium on Bilingualism. Tempe, AZ.
- Marian, V., & Neisser, U. (2000). Language-dependent recall of autobiographical memories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 129, 3, pp. 361-368.
- Otoya, M. T. (1987). A study of personal memories of bilinguals: The role of culture and language in memory encoding and recall. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
- Schrauf, R.W., & Rubin, D.C. (2000). Internal languages of retrieval: The bilingual encoding of memories for the personal past. Memory & Cognition, 28, 616-623. -Slobin, D.I. (2003). Language and thought online: Cognitive consequences of linguistic relativity. In D. Genter & S. Goldin-Meadow (Eds.), Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Spelke, E., & Tsivkin, S. (2001). Language and number: A bilingual training study. Cognition, 78, 45-88.
- Tulving, E., & Thomson, D. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes in episodic memory. Psychological Review, 80, 3, 352-373.

Web Master Arte & Diseño Digital . Last update Monday, February 9, 2004 10:17 AM