Research Project

Luque-Ferreras, Alicia

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Examining Inhibitory Control and Language Flexibility in Adult Second Language Learning

Principal Investigator
Luque-Ferreras, Alicia
Funding Source
National Science Foundation

Abstract

This dissertation project aims to investigate the role that inhibitory control abilities and native language (L1) flexibility play in adult second language (L2) learning. In today's world, many adults find themselves in a situation in which it is beneficial or even necessary to learn a new language. Yet we know that learning an L2 as an adult is a difficult task that results in a high degree of variability. Researchers who examine L2 learning are interested in identifying the characteristics that are shared among successful adult L2 learners because understanding these characteristics may help shed light on the mechanisms underlying L2 learning. Among the characteristics of interest, researchers have recently begun to examine inhibitory control and L1 flexibility. This interest has emerged, in part, due to a hypothesis that learners with better inhibitory control abilities and more "flexible" L1 systems may be better at acquiring an L2 (Bice & Kroll, 2015). This hypothesis is driven by psycholinguistic research with bilinguals that suggests that both languages are always active in their brain. The ability for bilinguals to functionally manage the constant co-activation seems to (a) be at least partially resolved by inhibitory control mechanisms, and (b) result in an interaction between the languages at the lexical, phonological, and syntactic levels in which effects of one language are seen in the processing and, sometimes, use of the other language. Although these effects have been examined extensively in bilinguals, their posited role in adult L2 learning, i.e., emerging bilingualism, is relatively new and is only beginning to be addressed by empirical research.