Phonological sensitivity and memory in children with a foreign language learning difficulty
The phonological processing and memory skills of 12- and 13-year-old Italian children with difficulty in learning English as a foreign language (foreign language learning difficulty, FLLD) were examined and compared with those of a control group matched for age and nonverbal intelligence. Three experiments were conducted. A dissociation between verbal and visuo-spatial working memory was observed when compared to the control group; children with FLLD showed a poorer performance in a phonological working memory task but performed to a comparable level in a visuo-spatial working memory task (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2 the word length and the response modality of an auditory word span task were manipulated in order to examine the efficiency of the phonological loop and the relevance of the spoken output. The FLLD group did not show sensitivity to the word length effect and showed no advantage in the picture pointing recall condition. In Experiment 3 children with FLLD were shown to be sensitive to phonological similarity but again they showed neither a word length effect nor a slower articulation speed. Furthermore, in all three experiments children with FLLD were shown to be less efficient in phonological sensitivity tasks and this deficit appeared to be independent of the phonological memory problem. All three experiments consistently showed that children with FLLD have an impairment in phonological memory and phonological processing, which appear to be independent from one other but both contribute to the children’s difficulty in learning a second language.