The Relationship Between Working Memory and Second Language Reading Comprehension

Nov 20 2022

Cognitive Science, Pedagogy, Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE)

The authors conducted a meta-analysis of 25 primary studies to further explore the link between working memory and reading. 

The inconsistency of working memory assessments

Although working memory is important for reading, working memory assessments are too inconsistent to compare results.

Written assessments yield greater information

The study was conducted by comparing the type of tests, type of measurements and tasks used to assess the correlation of working memory and L2 reading comprehension in the chosen 25 primary studies. The results were meticulously compared to form conclusions. The study found that there is a medium correlation between working memory and L2 reading comprehension. This is greater when participants are asked to recall information in a written format, highlighting that the type of tasks during the test also impact the correlation between working memory and L2 reading comprehension.

Rigorous testing necessary to produce accurate results

The results highlighted the complexity of measuring working memory and its impact on L2 reading comprehension because it can be influenced by the participants prior L2 proficiency, type of measurements, and task with which the assessment is performed. The research suggested that consistent, rigorous tests must be used in future to be able to compare results and minimize variations across studies to gain a true picture of the correlation between working memory and L2 reading comprehension.

Notable Quotes: 

“Although the format of the RST(reading span test) […] currently the most commonly adopted version, variations in the task design are common in research that explores the link between working memory and reading comprehension. Yet, little work has been done to examine how methodological features of the RST might influence the final working memory scores and its correlation with reading comprehension.”

“The overall results of the present study confirmed the medium-sized relationship between WM and L2 reading comprehension (r = .30).”

“With respect to the inconsistent measurement practices, researchers should first be aware of the moderator variables identified in this meta-analysis and take caution in interpreting findings of previous research.”

Personal Takeaway: 

I found the research interesting because as educators and SENCOs we rely on these test to interpret the students‘ progress. The study has shown me that tests cannot provide a full picture of a student‘s learning but have to be seen alongside other data and tasks performed by the student. Therefore, it is always important to not take the assessments as fully comprehensive but as a piece in the puzzle of monitoring progress. Conversations, variety in tasks and scaffolding might allow students to expand their reading and language skills to access and comprehend texts rather than provide support merely on one reading assessment. It is important to keep working memory in mind for L2 teaching but through the right teaching methods and tasks students will comprehend and progress regardless of their working memory.—Frankie

Shin, J. (2020). A meta-analysis of the relationship between working memory and second language reading comprehension: Does task type matter?. Applied Psycholinguistics, 41(4), 873-900.

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