Bilingual memory revisited: The effects of dual coding on incidental learning

Avin Roark, Pace University


The purpose of this study was to investigate the memory processes involved in verbal learning for bilingual students. According to dual coding theory, (Paivio & Lambert, 1981) bilinguals have separate memory systems for each of their languages and a non-verbal system corresponding to images. The implication of functionally distinct systems is that each may contribute independently to memory and result in superior recall to one coding system. This study predicted that, with verbal ability controlled, bilingual coding, or naming Spanish words in English, would elicit two verbal codes and result in significantly superior recall to monolingual coding. Image coding is assumed to be a stronger mnemonic than verbal coding. Hence a second prediction stated that when verbal and nonverbal codes are activated, as in naming pictures, this would result in significantly superior recall to bilingual or monolingual coding, with verbal ability controlled. Eighty-nine Spanish-English bilingual high school students were shown a mixed list of 51 slides consisting of 17 pictures, 17 English words and 17 Spanish words. The participants' task was to name the pictures with an English word, to translate the Spanish words with an English word, and to copy the English words. An unexpected recall task followed. The results of a multivariate analysis of variance showed that with verbal ability controlled, recall for picture-word coding was significantly higher than for bilingual coding, which in turn was significantly higher than recall for monolingual coding. These findings supported the assumptions that for bilinguals there are two functionally distinct representational systems corresponding to each language, and a third system corresponding to images. Verbal ability was significant only on the bilingual coding task and this has important implications for bilingual learning.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Roark, Avin, "Bilingual memory revisited: The effects of dual coding on incidental learning" (1989). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9015216.



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