The L2 advantage in recognition memory

Wendy S. Francis, The University of Texas at El Paso
Elva-Natalia Strobach

Document Type Article


To better understand the mechanisms by which bilingual proficiency impacts memory processes, two recognition memory experiments were conducted with matched monolingual and bilingual samples. In Experiment 1, monolingual speakers of English and Spanish studied high- and low-frequency words under full attention or cognitive load conditions. In Experiment 2, Spanish-English bilingual participants studied high- and low-frequency words under full-attention conditions in each language. For both monolinguals and bilinguals, low-frequency words were better recognized than high-frequency words. The central new findings were that bilingual recognition was more accurate in the less fluent language (L2) than in the more fluent language (L1) and that bilingual L2 recognition was more accurate than monolingual recognition. The bilingual L2 advantage parallels word frequency effects in recognition and is attributed to the greater episodic distinctiveness of L2 words, relative to L1 words.