How do L2 learners and L1 writers differ in their reliance on working memory during the formulation subprocess?

Abstract

L1 and L2 writers attend to different aspects of the formulation subprocess of writing. L2 writers devote more time and attention to low-level aspects such as grammar correction and spelling (Barbier 1998; Fagan and Hayden 1988; Whalen and Ménard 1995), leading to better spelling performances than L1 writers (Gunnarsson-Largy 2013). In deep-orthography languages such as French or English, L1 writers retrieve a phonological form of the word and then tend to automatically transcribe the most frequent corresponding orthographic form, whereas L2 writers seem to directly retrieve the exact orthographic form. For L2 writers, the visuo-orthographic form of the word therefore seems to prevail over the phonological one. Accordingly, we hypothesized that L1 and L2 writers rely differently on working memory (WM). To test this hypothesis, we designed an experiment where two groups (Levels B1 and C1) of instructed L2 French learners and an L1 French control group wrote dictated sentences, with compulsory negation marking in an ambiguous phonological context. While writing, they performed a concurrent task that induced a cognitive load on either phonological or visual WM, in order to identify the nature of the form maintained in WM during semantic checking. Results indicated that L2 French learners gradually move from a visual to a more phonological form of retrieval.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For reasons of clarity and coherence, we chose to use Levelt’s terminology to identify the writing subprocesses. Kellogg refers to them as planning (conceptualization), translating (formulation), execution (graphic transcription) and monitoring (revision).

  2. 2.

    In several studies, Pacton and colleagues showed similar implicit learning of graphotactic patterns in L1 French children learning to write (see, for example, Pacton, Sobaco, Fayol, & Treiman, 2013).

  3. 3.

    Adult writers rely on automatisms to deal with spelling and grammar (low-level aspects) in L1. For French writers, one of these automatisms is making the verb agree with the noun that directly precedes it. When adult writers have to transcribe sentences where the subject is followed by another noun in another number, the verb is incorrectly made to agree with the second noun [*Le père (sing.) des enfants (pl.) jouent au football]. This kind of error can be observed in corpus studies, and has been studied in an experimental paradigm where cognitive overload is induced by a concurrent task (Fayol, Largy, & Lemaire, 1994). Largy, Fayol, and Lemaire (1996) also showed that when cognitive overload is induced, adult writers (experts) automatically retrieve the most frequent form of a word when this word has homophones.

  4. 4.

    The levels of the students were established by several placement tests (written and oral comprehension, grammar and written production) at the beginning of the university year. As a result of these tests, they were placed in corresponding course levels.

  5. 5.

    Besides English, some participants had also learned Spanish (5) or German (3).

  6. 6.

    In nonambiguous contexts in oral French (not the case in the present study) when the subject is a clitic pronoun, the ne in the negation is often omitted. However, when the subject is a nonclitic pronoun or lexical noun phrase, the ne is produced more often than has been suggested in previous research (Meisner, 2010).

  7. 7.

    As the scores for the dependent variable were percentages calculated on four sentences per context, the medians in two groups could potentially be the same, even when the distribution was different and the nonparametric tests showed a significant difference.

  8. 8.

    As recommended by one of our anonymous reviewers, we provide the results of all the correlation analyses for the EC condition and the concurrent tasks, including those for which the results of Analyses 1 and 2 were not significant (see Table 16 in the Appendix).

  9. 9.

    Frequency checked using Google (French-language sites) on 30 October 2017: on a = 19,610,000,000 hits and on n’a = 743,000,000 hits.

  10. 10.

    The most common learning situation these days for L2 learners in Western countries is probably instructed learning (Housen & Pierrard, 2005).

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Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16.

Table 6 L2 participants’ L1 and their writing systems
Table 7 Synthesis of material
Table 8 Example of the distribution of sentence contexts and verbs in each experimental condition
Table 9 Synthesis procedure
Table 10 Analysis 1 Wilcoxon rank sum test between groups
Table 11 Analysis 1 recall modalities Wilcoxon signed rank test in groups—L1
Table 12 Analysis 1 recall modalities Wilcoxon signed rank test in groups—B1
Table 13 Analysis 1 recall modalities Wilcoxon signed rank test in groups—C1
Table 14 Analysis 2 nonword recall Wilcoxon signed rank test in groups—CC versus EC
Table 15 Analysis 2 filled square recall Wilcoxon signed rank test in groups—CC versus EC
Table 16 Correlation analysis Spearman’s rho

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Gunnarsson-Largy, C., Dherbey, N. & Largy, P. How do L2 learners and L1 writers differ in their reliance on working memory during the formulation subprocess?. Read Writ 32, 2083–2110 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-019-09941-y

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Keywords

  • Formulation subprocess
  • L2 spelling
  • Word form retrieval
  • Visual WM
  • Phonological WM