Language and Short-Term Memory

Bilingualism, or the ability to speak two or more languages effectively, has been linked to a variety of cognitive advantages, including enhanced attentional control, executive, and cognitive functions.

Short-term Memory and Working Memory

Baddeley and Hitch (1974) investigated the mechanisms involved in working memory and developed a working memory paradigm in which working memory replaced short-term memory. Short-term memory is used to store knowledge temporarily. It is used to store information that needs to be processed right away. For example, recalling a phone number long enough to dial it. Working memory, on the other side, is a more complicated mechanism that combines short-term memory with a purposeful manipulation of that knowledge. Working memory is used to retain knowledge for brief periods while actively working on it, such as when conducting mental calculations, solving issues, or following directions. It entails storing and manipulating knowledge temporarily to finish a cognitive activity. Further, processes involving storing or extraction from the long-term memory (LTM) or the phonological loop are controlled by the central executive. The input information is constantly repeated by the articulatory control, and the visuospatial scratch pad is in the sequence of visual input. In the year 2000, Baddeley added the episodic buffer, which interacts with LTM and other working memory components However, the model does not describe the growth of cognitive ability, central executive, as a result of practice.

Comparing Multilingual, Bilingual and Monolingual Memory    

Numerous studies have demonstrated that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in terms of working memory. When comparing bilingual children to monolinguals, bilinguals tend to outperform their peers on visuospatial and working memory tasks. It is further hypothesized that bilingualism can elevate potential consequences of disadvantages, such as lower socioeconomic class (Blom et al., 2014). Biedro and Szczepaniak (2012) investigated working memory and short-term memory in adult multilingual. The span test, IQ, and short-term memory assessments all showed a positive correlation between the number of languages and memory test results. Furthermore, one of the individuals with a perfect result was a polyglot who spoke ten languages. This could imply that working memory is more flexible than previously thought. Multilingual further tend to outperform monolinguals in phonological memory tasks however it does not necessarily translate into auditory or visual tasks (Fleser, 2018). The more languages a person knows and has mastered, the better they are at short-term cognitive exercises. 

 Advantages of Bilingualism/Monolingualism

 There are inconsistent findings regarding bilingual advantages. It was discovered that monolinguals beat bilinguals in vocabulary and syntax tests, moreover, early bilingualism had no benefit (Engel de Abreu, 2011). Furthermore, monolinguals tend to outperform bilinguals in verbal tasks. These disadvantages could be due to the cognitive load caused by memory processing multiple languages at the same time. When using one language, the other languages of a bilingual/multilingual are still being actively processed in the brain, leading to a competition between languages, further complicating the encoding processes. Finally, the time one acquired a second language is an important factor, since the earlier additional languages are mastered, the easier it is to manage it cognitively.

 To summarize, language and memory are both highly complicated. There is still much to discover in their relationship. More is not always better, and while languages bring benefits, they also add cognitive difficulties.

Written by Diana Sultanova for Prague Integration

By Diana Sultanova, Mental Health Intern


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