Are good learners also good forgetters? A retrieval induced forgetting perspective of L1 attrition in an L2 immersed context

Keijzer, M., 16-Sep-2014.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic

One finding that is notoriously reported by any study examining first language (L1) attrition in a second language (L2) immersed environment is the substantial individual variation: some individuals showcase dramatically reduced linguistic performance, while the linguistic behavior of others remains virtually unchanged. In a quantitative study uncovering the predictor variables of attrition (cf. Schmid & Dusseldorp, 2010), it was found that factors that are mostly linked to attrition (e.g. amount and type of exposure to the L1 and L2, attitude, etc.) were only weak predictors. Only relatively recently has attrition – and the individual differences between ‘attriters’ - been approached from the general learning and memory literature and has been placed in a retrieval induced forgetting framework (cf. Anderson et al., 1994). Under this theory, which has its roots more in cognitive psychology than linguistics, it is assumed that when you retrieve a piece of information, related knowledge is inhibited to avoid interference (cf. Anderson et al., 2000). Applied to L1 forgetting, attrition is seen as arising from repeatedly having to suppress the L1 while using the L2. Inhibition may then be central in overcoming L1 interference in the initial stages of L2 acquisition, but may be detrimental to the L1 in the long run (Levy et al, 2009). Put very boldly, retrieval induced forgetting theories stipulate that good learners are also good forgetters. The fact that there will be individual differences is inevitable: not all speakers are as apt at learning a new language, and not all speakers will allow changes to their L1. Retrieval-induced forgetting in turn reveals parallels with the recently postulated statistical preemption theory (Goldberg, 2013), which can be extended to a bilingual context: an existing (L1) category is altered because there is a readily available competitor from the L2 at hand, but this will not occur across the board and substantial individual variation is instead expected. This paper explores the viability of induced-retrieval forgetting and statistical preemption in relation to L1 attrition of Dutch in an L2 English-immersed setting. By way of example, it does so by investigating the bidirectional L1 to L2 interference in participants’ performance on letter and category fluency tasks.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16-Sep-2014
EventLanguage development across the lifespan lecture series (LANSPAN) - University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands
Duration: 16-Sep-201416-Sep-2014


ConferenceLanguage development across the lifespan lecture series (LANSPAN)


Language development across the lifespan lecture series (LANSPAN)


Groningen, Netherlands

Event: Conference

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ID: 15702026