Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 861–883 | Cite as

Working memory and second language comprehension and production: A meta-analysis

  • Jared A. Linck
  • Peter Osthus
  • Joel T. Koeth
  • Michael F. Bunting
Theoretical Review


Although working memory (WM) figures centrally in many theories of second language (L2) proficiency development and processing, some have argued that the importance of WM is overstated (e.g., Juffs, Transactions of the Philological Society, 102, 199–225, 2004). Despite many studies over the past two decades, the literature lacks a quantitative synthesis of the extant results. In this article, we report a meta-analysis of data from 79 samples involving 3,707 participants providing 748 effect sizes. The results indicate that WM is positively associated with both L2 processing and proficiency outcomes, with an estimated population effect size (ρ) of .255. In additional analyses, we assessed whether the WM–criterion relationship was modulated by potential covariates identified in the literature search (i.e., participant characteristics, WM measure features, criterion measure factors, and publication status). The results of the covariate analyses indicated larger effect sizes for the executive control (vs. storage) component of WM, and for verbal (vs. nonverbal) measures of WM. Minimal publication bias was detected, suggesting that WM has a robust, positive relationship with L2 outcomes. We discuss the implications of these results for models of WM and theories of L2 processing and L2 proficiency development.


Working memory L2 processing L2 comprehension L2 production Second language acquisition Meta-analysis 

Supplementary material

13423_2013_565_MOESM1_ESM.txt (21 kb)
ESM 1(TXT 20.7 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jared A. Linck
    • 1
  • Peter Osthus
    • 1
    • 2
  • Joel T. Koeth
    • 2
  • Michael F. Bunting
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Advanced Study of LanguageUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Second Language Acquisition ProgramUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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