Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics VIAL

Erica B. Michael (1), Natasha Tokowicz (2), Tamar Degani(2) and Courtney J. Smith (2): Individual Differences in the Ability to Resolve Translation Ambiguity across Languages. VIAL. Number 8/2011: 78-97.


We investigated whether individual differences in working memory (WM) span and the ability to ignore task-irrelevant information were related to the ability to resolve translation ambiguity, which occurs when a word has multiple translations. Native English speakers who were intermediate learners of Spanish translated translation-ambiguous (multiple translation) and translation-unambiguous (single translation) words. As in previous studies, translation-ambiguous words were translated less accurately than translation-unambiguous words. Individuals better able to ignore task-irrelevant information translated words more accurately, but only for translation-unambiguous words. The best overall translation performance was for individuals with both higher WM span and better ability to ignore task-irrelevant information; higher WM span was a disadvantage for individuals more susceptible to task-irrelevant information. These results suggest that higher WM span and ability to ignore task-irrelevant information contribute to better L2 word learning, but greater word knowledge is problematic if individuals are not able to control the activation generated from multiple translation alternatives.

Keywords: Bilingual language processing, translation ambiguity, individual differences, working memory, Stroop.

(1) University of Maryland, MD, USA.
(2) Northwestern University, PA, USA.

Back to Contents of Number 8

Download full text of this article in pdf format