Edited by Robert M. DeKeyser
[Journal of Second Language Studies 2:2] 2019
► pp. 281–316
Working memory and planning time as predictors of fluency and accuracy
Working memory, which accounts for the ability to process information in the face of interference, is critical to second language acquisition (SLA) and use. The interaction of working memory capacity (WMC) with specific pedagogical interventions is a logical place for empirical SLA research, both to examine the cognitive processes underpinning second language performance and to identify instructional treatments that may serve learners differently based on their WMC. This study considers WMC along with two different types of pre-task planning time (guided and unguided) as predictors of the attempted accuracy and fluency of learners’ discourse. Seventy-two intermediate ESL students from seven classes at a community college participated by completing two different working memory span tasks, as well as two different “There-and-Then” oral story-telling tasks. The treatment condition of the story-telling tasks was manipulated so that learners’ performance could be considered in terms of provision of pre-task planning (+/− planning), type of planning (guided vs. unguided), and order of planning (planning first or planning second). Task order had a clear effect on learners’ production, regardless of the provision of planning time. Guided planning time promoted a focus on attempted accuracy and unguided planning time fostered fluency. Finally, this study indicates that task conditions can affect high- and low-WMC learners in different ways: the former are more likely to comply with complex story-telling instructions, requiring them to focus on grammatical form at the expense of fluency, whereas the latter are less likely to comply with the same instructions.