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.
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