Speaking in a second language but thinking in the first language: Language-specific effects on memory for causation events in English and Spanish

Luna Filipovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


Aims and objectives/purpose/research question: This paper’s objective is to offer new insights into the effects of language on memory for causation events in a second language (L2) context. The research was driven by the question of whether proficient L2 users acquired L2 thinking-for-speaking-and-remembering strategies along with the relevant expressions for different types of causation (intentional versus non-intentional).

Design/methodology/approach: The cognitive domain of causation is an ideal platform for this investigation, since the lexicalisation of causation differs clearly in the two languages under consideration, English and Spanish. Spanish speakers always distinguish between intentional and non-intentional events through the use of different constructions. The English pattern of lexicalisation in this domain often leaves intentionality unspecified. Our methodology involves an experimental elicitation of event verbalisations and recall memory responses to video stimuli by English and Spanish monolinguals and bilinguals.

Data and analysis: The analysis has shown that the Spanish monolinguals and first language (L1) Spanish/L2 English speakers always distinguished between intentional and non-intentional events, while the English monolinguals and L1 English/L2 Spanish speakers generally used expressions that were underspecified with regard to intentionality.

Findings/conclusions: All populations used their habitual language patterns as an aid to memory. Spanish monolingual had better recall than their English peers. L2 speakers were mainly relying on the L1 in spite of speaking only the L2 during the experiment.

Originality: Possible effects of these typological differences between an L1 and an L2 on speaker recall memory have not been investigated before.

Significance/implications: The research presented in this paper informs the theoretical assumptions related to the thinking-for-speaking hypothesis by showing empirically that late bilinguals adhere to their L1 patterns as an aid to memory while speaking in their L2. This novel finding contributes to an improved understanding of language processing and language use among late bilinguals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-198
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number2
Early online date17 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Causation
  • English
  • recall memory
  • second language acquisition
  • Spanish

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