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Declarative and procedural memory as individual differences in second language acquisition*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2013

University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago
Upper-Story Consulting
The Chinese University of Hong Kong & Northwestern University
Address for correspondence: Kara Morgan-Short, 601 S. Morgan St., 1706 University Hall, M/C 315, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607,


This study examined how individual differences in cognitive abilities account for variance in the attainment level of adult second language (L2) syntactic development. Participants completed assessments of declarative and procedural learning abilities. They subsequently learned an artificial L2 under implicit training conditions and received extended comprehension and production practice using the L2. Syntactic development was assessed at both early and late stages of acquisition. Results indicated positive relationships between declarative learning ability and syntactic development at early stages of acquisition and between procedural learning ability and development at later stages of acquisition. Individual differences in these memory abilities accounted for a large amount of variance at both stages of development. The findings are consistent with theoretical perspectives of L2 that posit different roles for these memory systems at different stages of development, and suggest that declarative and procedural memory learning abilities may predict L2 grammatical development, at least for implicitly trained learners.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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We would like to acknowledge members of the Cognition of Second Language Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago for assistance in collecting data for this study. We thank Alice H. D. Chan, Francis C. K. Wong and Michael T. Ullman for thoughtful discussions about this work, and we appreciate the insightful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript from anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by a Language Learning Small Research Grant to K.M.S. and by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01DC008333 & K02AG035382) awarded to P.C.M.W.


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