Second and foreign language fluency from a cognitive perspective : inefficiency and control of attention in lexical access
Published inJyväskylä studies in humanities
The present dissertation focuses on the fluency of second and foreign language (L2). Second and foreign language use is often assessed by its fluency. However, the connections between language proficiency and fluency are far from clear. The fluency reasearch has tried to establish these connections, but results are varied. In the current thesis, this question is explored within the theoretical framework of Norman Segalowitz’s division of three types of fluency: cognitive, utterance, and perceived fluency. The overall proposition here is that in relation to L2 proficiency, cognitive fluency provides important insights. This is based on the theories of limited cognitive resources, which state the more efficiently the lower-level processes work, the more resources will be available for the higher-level processes. Therefore, the fluency with which a language is used may in part depend on the resources available for both levels of processing. The thesis comprises three journal articles and a synthesis of them. As a measure of cognitive fluency, lexical access tasks were used. Fluency was operationalised as the efficiency of lexical access (speed and accuracy) and the resources available for the control of attention. Speed and accuracy in both word recognition and word retrieval in L2 were measured. The participants were Finnish learners of English as a foreign language from Grades 4, 8, and 11; and a group of Russian-speaking learners of Finnish as a second language from primary school. Furthermore, the relationship of L2 lexical access to L1 lexical access was examined. In Article I, the speed of lexical access was found to explain a substantial amount of variance (20–45%) in L2 reading comprehension and writing performance. Word recognition rates explained literacy skills in the younger readers, whereas word retrieval rates accounted for the literacy skills in the older students, indicating a difference in the skill profiles. In Article II, the accuracy of lexical access added 10–17% to the explained variance of the literacy skills, confirming the importance of accurate lexical access in addition to the its speed in literacy skills. Furthermore, fluent L1 lexical access was found to explain variance in L2 literacy skills across all grade levels. Article III examined inaccuracies in lexical access, which were categorised as resulting from either inefficiency or attention-control. These were shown to have different distributions depending on the level of language proficiency. The overall results thus highlight a componential view of fluency, with its distinct aspects connecting to L2 proficiency in more varied ways than have been considered thus far. ...
PublisherUniversity of Jyväskylä
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