Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-jqctd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-29T13:03:07.972Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

29 - Working Memory and Second Language Speaking Tasks

from Part V - Bilingual Acquisition and Processing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2022

John W. Schwieter
Wilfrid Laurier University
Zhisheng (Edward) Wen
Hong Kong Shue Yan University
Get access


This chapter starts by providing brief accounts of both first and second language speaking, and then surveys empirical work, measurement issues, and theory on the use of second language speaking tasks – the sort of tasks, often with real-world connections, used in communicative language classrooms to nurture second language development and performance. The main section of the chapter is concerned with the relationships between working memory and performance on such tasks. Broadly it is argued that, as yet, there are not many systematic findings relating task characteristics, working memory, and actual performance. In contrast, the conditions under which second language speaking tasks are done (such as planning opportunities, repeated tasks) do show some interesting results. Based on such research, it is argued that working memory plays more of a role in the Formulation stage of speech production. Proposals are made regarding the areas where it would be most helpful to research working memory connections with second language speaking tasks.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ahmadian, M. (2012). The relationship between working memory capacity and L2 oral performance under task-based careful online planning conditions. TESOL Quarterly, 46, 1, 165175.Google Scholar
Ahmadian, M. (2013). Working memory and task repetition in second language oral production. Asian Journal of English Language Teaching. 23, 3755.Google Scholar
Albarqi, G. (2019). Self-monitoring behaviour of L2 learners: Proficiency level, dual task paradigm and working memory capacity (Doctoral dissertation, University of Reading).Google Scholar
Anderson, J. (1995). Learning and memory. John Wiley.Google Scholar
Awwad, A. & Tavakoli, P. (2019). Task complexity, language proficiency, and working memory: Interaction effects on second language speech performance. International Review of Applied Linguistics. Scholar
Baddeley, A. (2012). Working memory: Theories, models, and controversies. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 130.Google Scholar
Bui, H. (2014). Task readiness: Theoretical framework and empirical evidence from topic familiarity, strategic planning, and proficiency levels. In Skehan, P. (Ed.). Processing perspectives on task performance (pp. 6394). John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Bui, G. & Skehan, P. (2018). Complexity, accuracy, and fluency. In Nassaji, H. (Ed.), TESOL encyclopedia of English language teaching. Wiley.Google Scholar
Bui, G., Skehan, P., & Wang, Z. (2018). Task condition effects on advanced level foreign language performance. Malovrh, P. & Benati, A. (Eds.), Handbook of advanced proficiency in second language acquisition. (pp. 219238). Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bygate, M. (2001). Effects of task repetition on the structure and control of oral language. In Bygate, M., Skehan, P., & Swain, M. (Eds.). Researching pedagogic tasks: Second language learning, teaching and testing (pp. 2348). Longman.Google Scholar
Bygate, M. (2018). Learning language through task repetition. John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Cho, M. (2018). Task complexity, modality, and working memory in L2 task performance. System, 72, 8598.Google Scholar
Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behaviour and Brain Sciences, 24, 87185.Google Scholar
Crookes, G. & Gass, S. (1993). Tasks and language learning: Integrating theory and practice. Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
DeKeyser, R., & Juffs, A. (2005). Cognitive considerations in L2 learning. In Hinkel, E. (Ed.), Handbook of research: Second language teaching and learning (pp. 437454). Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Duran-Karaoz, Z. (2020). An exploratory study of second language oral performance: Fluence and lexical complexity in L1 Turkish and L2 English (Doctoral dissertation, University of Reading).Google Scholar
Ellis, R., Skehan, P., Li, S., Shintani, N., & Lambert, C. (2020). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
Ellis, R., & Yuan, F. (2005). The effect of careful within-task planning on oral and written task performance. In Ellis, R. (Ed.), Planning and task performance in a second language. (pp. 167192). John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Foster, P. & Skehan, P. (2013) The effects of post-task activities on the accuracy of language during task performance. Canadian Modern Language Review, 69, 249273.Google Scholar
Georgiadou, E., & Roehr-Brackin, K. (2017). Investigating executive working memory and phonological short-term memory in relation to fluency and self-repair behavior in L2 speech. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 46(4), 877895.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gilabert, R. & Munoz, C. (2010). Differences in attainment and performance in a foreign language: The role of working memory capacity. International Journal of English Studies, 10(1), 1942.Google Scholar
Guará-Tavares, M. G. (2013). Working memory capacity and L2 speech performance in planned and spontaneous conditions: A correlational analysis. Trabalhos Em Linguística Aplicada, 52(1), 929.Google Scholar
Guará-Tavares, M. G. (2016). Learners’ processes during pre-task planning and working memory capacity. Ilha do Desterro, 69(1), 7994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kim, Y. & McDonough, K. (2011). Using pretask modelling to encourage collaborative learning opportunities. Language Teaching Research, 15(2), 183199.Google Scholar
Kormos, J. (2006). Speech production and second language acquisition. Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Kormos, J. & Trebits, A. (2011). Working memory capacity and narrative task performance. In Robinson, P. (Ed.). Second language task complexity (pp. 267285). John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Lambert, C., Kormos, J., & Minn, D. (2017). Task repetition and second language speech processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 39(1), 1670150196.Google Scholar
Levelt, W. J. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Levelt, W. J. (1999). Language production: A blueprint for the speaker. In Brown, C. & Hagoort, P. (Eds.), Neurocognition of language (pp. 83122). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Li, Q. (2014). Get it right in the end: The effects of post-task transcribing on learners’ oral performance. In Skehan, P. (Ed.), Processing perspectives on task performance (pp. 129154). John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Li, S., & Fu, M. (2016). Strategic and unpressured within-task planning and their associations with working memory. Language Teaching Research, 20, 124.Google Scholar
Long, M. (2015). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. Wiley.Google Scholar
Miller, G. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 8197.Google Scholar
Mota, M. (2003). Working memory capacity and fluency, accuracy, complexity, and lexical density in L2 speech production. Fragmentos, 24, 69104.Google Scholar
Nielson, K. (2013). Can planning time compensate for individual differences in working memory capacity? Language Teaching Research, 18(3), 272293.Google Scholar
Pang, F. & Skehan, P. (2014). Self-reported planning behaviour and second language performance in narrative retelling. In Skehan, P., Processing perspectives on task performance (pp. 95128). John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Recio, M. (2011). The effects of task complexity on L2 oral production as mediated by differences in working memory capacity (Master’s thesis, University of Barcelona).Google Scholar
Robinson, P. (Ed.). (2011a). Second language task complexity: Researching the cognition hypothesis of language learning and performance. John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Robinson, P. (2011b). Second language task complexity, the Cognition Hypothesis, language learning, and performance. In Robinson, P. (Ed.), Second language task complexity (pp 338). John BenjaminsGoogle Scholar
Robinson, P. (2015). The Cognition Hypothesis, second language task demands, and the SSARC model of pedagogic task sequencing. In Bygate, M. (Ed.). Domains and directions in the development of TBLT. (pp. 87122). John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Sanders, A. (1998). Elements of human performance. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
Skehan, P. (2009b). Lexical performance by native and non-native speakers on language-learning tasks. In Richards, B., Daller, H., Malvern, D. D., Meara, & P. (Eds.). Vocabulary studies in first and second language acquisition: The interface between theory and application. (pp. 107124). Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Skehan, P. (2013). Nurturing noticing. In Bergsleithner, J., Frota, S. N., & Yoshioka, J. K. (Eds.), Noticing and second language acquisition: Studies in honor of Richard Schmidt (pp. 169180). National Foreign Language Center.Google Scholar
Skehan, P. (2014a). Processing perspectives on task performance. John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Skehan, P. (2014b). The context for researching a processing perspective on task performance. In Skehan, P. (Ed.), Processing perspectives on task performance (pp. 126). John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Skehan, P. (2016). Tasks vs. conditions: Two perspectives on task research and its implications for pedagogy. In Mackey, A. (Ed.), Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 3449.Google Scholar
Skehan, P. (2018). Second language task-based performance: Theory, research, and assessment. Routledge.Google Scholar
Skehan, P., & Foster, P. (1997). The influence of planning and post-task activities on accuracy and complexity in task based learning. Language Teaching Research, 1, 185211.Google Scholar
Tavakoli, P., & Skehan, P. (2005). Planning, task structure, and performance testing. In Ellis, R. (Ed.), Planning and task performance in a second language (pp. 239276). John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Tavakoli, P. & Wright, C. (2020). Second language speech fluency: From research to practice. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Wen, Z. (2015). Working memory in second language acquisition and processing: The phonological/executive model. In Wen, Z., Mota, N., & McNeill, A. (Eds.). Working memory in second language acquisition and processing. (pp. 4162). Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Williams, J. (2015). Working memory in SLA research: Challenges and prospects. In Wen, Z., N. Mota, , & McNeill, A. (Eds.), Working memory in second language acquisition and processing (pp. 301308). Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Zalbidea, J. (2017). “One size fits all”? The roles of task complexity, modality, and working memory capacity in L2 performance. Modern Language Journal, 101(2), 335352.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats