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Second Language Learning & Episodic Memory: Where Was I When?

Homepage Forums Brain-Based Learning Q&A Second Language Learning & Episodic Memory: Where Was I When?

  • This topic has 2 replies, 1 voice, and was last updated 4 years, 9 months ago by AvatarAlicia Alvarez-Calderón.
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    • #9410
      AvatarLezley Lewis

      The use of episodic memory (a memory which is stored in relationship to a specific location or experience) is the best friend of the second language teacher. The second language teacher utilizes episodic memory by intentionally choosing the location where instruction is delivered. In the location, “place-determined” (Garcia 2009), all instruction is in one target language. In dual language, a bilingual education model where a percentage of academic content is taught in each target language i.e. Spanish/English, Chinese/English, location separates languages. The location can be within a classroom representing a target language or between classrooms, each representing a target language. Regardless of the location, it is the strict separation of language instruction in that space that engages the brain’s use of episodic memory (Lewis, Rivera & Roby, 2013).

      When a student is in the dual language classroom, episodic memory is an important strategy for accessing memory in language learning. Children in a dual language environment continually manage and monitor the communicative situation to determine what language is being spoken and how to respond appropriately (Comeau and Genesee 2001; Yow and Markman 2011). The heightened monitoring of the dual language student to determine how and in what language to engage leads to greater cognitive strategies thus creating the cognitive load believed to result in the recruiting of additional neural tissue and greater brain density (Conboy 2006).

      The advantage of using place-determined in dual language instruction is that it provides a “language-surround”, a context in which children’s language development is supported by enabling them to only hear, see, read, and write in that particular language (Garcia 2009). Place-determined is a strategy utilizing episodic memory to target specific recall and increase second language learning.

      Conboy, B. (2013) Neuroscience Research: How Experience with One or More Languages Affects the Developing Brain. California’s Best Practices for Young Dual Language Learners: Research Overview Papers. California Department of Education (CDE) State Advisory Council on Early Learning and Care. Sacramento, CA 95814.

      Lewis, L., Rivera, A. & Roby, D. (2013). Dual Language Programming: Building Sustainable Frameworks from Development to Evaluation. In-print Education Advocates Leadership & Learning (

      Howard, E.R., Sugarman, J., Christian, D., Lindholm-Leary, K.J., & Rogers, D. (2007) Guiding principles for dual language (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C: Center for Applied Linguistics.

      García, Ofelia. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Malden, Ma. and Oxford: Basil/Blackwell.

    • #44406
      AvatarEric Jensen

      Great post, Lezley

      I think that in addition to the episodic (spatial) memory, another non conscious language trigger may be a face or voice trigger.

      The brain is highly specialized in recognized and “placing” human faces, so I think we might find some evidence that face to face contact is crucial.

      The voice is also quite powerful. As infants, our brain is creating auditory maps which respond to high-relevance contacts like a mother’s voice. The slightest nuance in a voice (which may hint of a Latino accent) or any other may also be triggers.

      Thanks for your insights and research. Maybe others can jump in.

    • #63319
      AvatarAlicia Alvarez-Calderón

      The voice or face trigger may be the reason why many researchers in bilingual education recommend teaming for dual language classrooms. In this case, one teacher teachers all the curriculum in Spanish and the other in English (for Spanish/English dual programs). Researchers like Thomas and Collier argue that the linguistic proficiency of the teacher is critical for an effective program but also that it is easier for children to identify one teacher with one language, making it easier for them to separate the languages when speaking and writing. “Codeswitching” or “Translanguaging” is taking a different role now in bilingual education (see Ofelia Garcia’s work on Translanguaging), however, high stakes testing forces us to separate languages when doing academic work.

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