Language switching costs in bilingual mathematics learning: Transfer effects and individual differences

Sprachwechselkosten beim zweisprachigen Mathematiklernen: Transfereffekte und individuelle Unterschiede

Abstract

There is an implicit assumption in Content- and Language Integrated Learning that the acquired knowledge is represented independently of the language of instruction. However, it could be shown in several experimental intervention studies that cognitive costs (i. e. longer reaction times and lower accuracy) arise when the languages of study and retrieval do not match. In the present study, we focused on arithmetic fact learning and investigated whether these cognitive costs generalize to more complex contexts. In addition, we explored the relationship between the cognitive costs and individual differences in executive functions, intelligence, mathematical competence and second language (L2) proficiency. Participants were 58 German-French bilingual university students (L2 proficiency B2 or above). They studied multiplication facts for 3 consecutive days in either their L1 or L2, followed by a test in both languages on the 4th day. Cognitive costs caused by language switching between training and test were found for both problems requiring simple fact retrieval and problems requiring knowledge application in novel, more complex text problems. The costs were negatively related with L2 proficiency and positively with inhibition. This study shows for the first time that language switching costs can be found in situations when knowledge needs to be applied in a new context, as it is often necessary in classroom learning. Implications of this study will be discussed with regards to bilingual arithmetic learning.

Zusammenfassung

Bei fremdsprachlichem Fachunterricht wird implizit davon ausgegangen, dass das erworbene Wissen unabhängig von der Instruktionssprache repräsentiert ist. In mehreren experimentellen Interventionsstudien konnte allerdings gezeigt werden, dass kognitive Kosten in Form von längeren Reaktionszeiten und höheren Fehlerzahlen entstehen, wenn die Sprache beim Wissensabruf nicht mit der Instruktionssprache übereinstimmt. In der vorliegenden Studie wurde für arithmetisches Faktenlernen untersucht, ob sich diese Kosten auf komplexere Aufgaben übertragen. Weiterhin wurde deren Zusammenhang mit exekutiven Funktionen, Intelligenz, Rechen- und Sprachkompetenzen in der Zweitsprache (L2) geprüft. Die Studienteilnehmer waren 58 zweisprachige (deutsch-französisch) Studierende (L2-Sprachfähigkeiten B2 oder höher). Sie lernten die Ergebnisse von Multiplikationsaufgaben über 3 aufeinanderfolgende Tage in der L1 oder L2, mit einem anschließenden Test auf beiden Sprachen am 4. Tag. Kognitive Kosten durch Sprachwechsel zwischen Training und Testung wurden für die Reaktionszeiten bei Aufgaben, die einen einfachen Faktenabruf erforderten, sowie bei Transferaufgaben, die Anwendung des Wissens in einem neuen, komplexeren Kontext erfordern, gefunden. Das Ausmaß der Kosten zeigte negative Zusammenhänge mit den Sprachfähigkeiten in L2 und positive Zusammenhänge mit Inhibition. Mit dieser Studie konnte erstmalig gezeigt werden, dass kognitive Kosten auch in Situationen entstehen, in denen Gelerntes in einen neuen Kontext gestellt wird, wie es im Rahmen schulischen Lernens erforderlich ist. Implikationen der Studie werden im Hinblick auf zweisprachiges Mathematiklernen diskutiert.

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Correspondence to Prof. Dr. Henrik Saalbach.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 6 Intercorrelations for all variables, German and French Training, n = 58

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Volmer, E., Grabner, R.H. & Saalbach, H. Language switching costs in bilingual mathematics learning: Transfer effects and individual differences. Z Erziehungswiss 21, 71–96 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11618-017-0795-6

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Keywords

  • Arithmetic text problems
  • Bilingual education
  • Cognitive costs
  • Content- and language integrated learning (CLIL)
  • Executive functions
  • Language Switching Costs
  • Transfer

Schlüsselwörter

  • Mathematische Textaufgaben
  • Bilingualer Unterricht
  • Kognitive Kosten
  • Fremdsprachlicher Fachunterricht
  • Exekutive Funktionen
  • Sprachwechselkosten
  • Transfer