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An Investigation of Working Memory Effects on Oral Grammatical Accuracy and Fluency in Producing Questions in English



This article addresses the question of how far working memory may affect second language (L2) learners' improvement in spoken language during a period of immersion. Research is presented testing the hypothesis that individual differences in working memory (WM) capacity are associated with individual variation in improvements in oral production of questions in English. Thirty-two Chinese adult speakers of English were tested, before and after a year's postgraduate study in the United Kingdom, to measure grammatical accuracy and fluency using a question elicitation task, and to measure WM using a battery of first language (L1) and L2 WM tests. Story recall in L1 (Mandarin) was significantly associated with individuals' improvement in oral grammatical measures (< .05). However, there was no significant mean improvement across the cohort in grammatical accuracy, although there was for fluency. The findings suggest that WM may aid certain aspects of individuals' L2 oral proficiency during academic immersion through postgraduate study. They also indicate that academic immersion in itself can lead to improvements in oral proficiency, independent of WM capacity, but there is no general guarantee of significant grammatical change. Further research to clarify the opportunities for input and interaction available in academic immersion settings is called for.