Processing limitations in L2 fluency: Analysis of inaccuracies in lexical access

Sanna Olkkonen

Fluency, Oral proficiency, Information-processing, Lexical access


Oral fluency is widely included in second language assessments, but its relationship to language proficiency is not straightforward. In the current study, data gathered in an experimental setting were examined with an exploratory fluency analysis. The aim was to examine the relationship between fluency of lexical access and proficiency in foreign language (L2). Fluency of the lexical access was studied by analysing inaccuracies in one word recognition and one word retrieval task. To see if proficiency had an effect on the number and the type of inaccuracies, lexical access tasks were carried out for 563 Finnish school children from grades 4, 8, and 11 in their L2 (English). Proficiency in L2 was expected to develop during school education. The inaccuracies were proposed to stem from processing limitations in language use, i.e., inefficiency of lexical access, or from control of attention. The hypothesis was that if lexical access is not automatized, there are less resources for attention-control in recognising and retrieving words. Therefore, the inaccuracies in L2 relating to inefficiency were hypothesised to decrease with proficiency, whereas the ones relating to control of attention were proposed to be more stable or to increase. Furthermore, the fluency of L1 lexical access was used as a control measure. The results offered some confirmation to these hypotheses. For example, some evidence for more available resources in correcting and monitoring speech was found for the older students. The overall results highlight caution in assessing L2 fluency, as not all types of inaccuracies were connected with lower proficiency.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies