Working Memory Performance in Spanish-English Bilinguals' First and Second Languages

Jordan Allyssabeth Orozco, University of Texas at El Paso


Background: Working memory is important for speech understanding in that speech recognition requires the processing, temporary storage, and manipulation of information during complex cognitive tasks. Previous research has shown contradictory findings on whether bilinguals have an advantage in working memory capacity compared to their monolingual counterparts. Differences in findings have been attributed to various factors to include task-dependent effects and poorly matched samples. Therefore, the existence of a bilingual advantage in working memory remains unclear. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the working memory performance of Spanish/English bilingual individuals compared to English monolingual individuals using a linguistically demanding working memory task. Methods: A group of 20 Spanish-English bilinguals aged 18-33 and 20 English monolinguals aged 18-25 participated in the study. Working memory performance was measured using a modified version of the Listening Span (LSPAN) Test in quiet and in background noise. Results: All participants performed significantly better on the 2-span condition compared to the 4- and 6-span conditions [F (2,76) =323.45; p = <.001; ηp2 = 1.00] and participants’ working memory performance was significantly better in quiet compared to background noise [F (1,38) =22.25; p = <.001; ηp2 = .996]. Bilingual participants performed significantly better than monolinguals in quiet and noise on the 4-span condition, and in quiet on the 6-span condition [F (2,76) =3.114; p =.05; ηp2 = .583]. Bilingual participants also performed significantly better in English than in Spanish [F (1,19) =17.89; p =<.001; ηp2 = .980]. Conclusions: Spanish-English bilinguals have better auditory verbal working memory performance than English monolinguals. Results from this study suggest that the constant management of two language systems may enhance auditory working memory performance in bilingual individuals.

Subject Area

Bilingual education

Recommended Citation

Orozco, Jordan Allyssabeth, "Working Memory Performance in Spanish-English Bilinguals' First and Second Languages" (2020). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI27993224.