The differential impact of Cogmed, language instruction, and combined Cogmed and language instruction for Japanese high school and college students with English as a foreign language

Institution: Fukuoka University, Saga University

Investigator(s): Yuko Hayashi, Shoichi Tanaka, Prerna Menon, Tsuyoshi Toyoshige, Yuya Sunakawa, Taisei Kobayashi

Program: Cogmed QM

Background & Aim: Working memory (WM) and its role in individual differences have been extensively researched within the field of language acquisition, including the context of second (L2) /foreign language (FL) acquisition (e.g., Harrington & Sawyer, 1992; Miyake & Friedman, 1998; Walter, 2004). Using WM measures tapping into both storage and processing, Walter (2004) showed that the correlation between WM capacity and reading was stronger in the L2 than L1, and that the strength was greater for the lower- than upper-intermediate learners. This finding is of particular significance, providing insight into the potential benefit of offering WM training to lower proficiency learners, alongside their EFL instruction.
WM training in children has proven to exert both long and short-term effects on verbal and nonverbal abilities (Holmes, et al., 2009; Holmes, et al., 2010). However, little to no research has investigated the role of WM training in aspects of L2 proficiency (e.g., speaking and writing) in older learners. Furthermore, it has yet to be ascertained whether WM training makes a unique contribution to L2 proficiency or whether a combination of language-based and WM training is more effective. Emerging evidence suggests that WM training may be effective when combined with a range of teaching of learning strategies including linguistic ones (Klingberg, 2010).
The overarching aim of the project is to longitudinally investigate the relative contribution of both cognitive and linguistic factors to proficiency in high school and university EFL learners. WM training is particularly relevant with these populations because performing linguistic and cognitively demanding tasks in the L2 puts additional burdens on their WM systems. These burdens could potentially be alleviated through WM interventions, which could, in turn, help us to identify effective provision for the development of L2 proficiency.

Population & Sample Size: N = 320 high school and college students, ages 15 – 22 years

n = 80 students in Cogmed training group
n = 80 students in English-as-a-Global-Language (EGL) instruction group
n = 80 students in combination Cogmed and EGL group
n = 80 students in typical English Foreign Language (EFL)curriculum

* The EGL intervention is speaking-oriented and involves the participants learning English by interacting with a group of students with different nationalities. The interaction will be elicited via group discussions and mini-projects assigned on topics related to global issues (e.g., environment, education, economics). Such a learning environment is contrasting to the EFL context, since the latter typically represents a homogenous L1 group (Japanese in this context) and hence lacks exposure to different types of English being used in meaningful context.

Note: Each experimental group has two sub-groups: one group of 40 high school students and the other of 40 university students.

Design: Randomized, Active Controlled, Double-Blinded, Test-retest, 6 Month Follow Up