Psycholinguistic Approaches and Advanced Proficiency

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Psycholinguists are concerned with how language is handled in real-time (millisecond-by-millisecond) processing during production and comprehension, and when applied to second language (L2) contexts, they often focus on how highly advanced L2 learners' processing compares to that of native speakers. This is particularly the case in the area of L2 sentence processing, or parsing, and in comparison to research into L2 lexical processing. Specifically, as learners’ proficiency increases, cross-linguistic activation of lexical items between a learner’s languages—that can hinder lexical processing—is reduced (Van Assche, Drieghe, Duyck, Welvaert & Hartsuiker, 2010: Libben & Titone, 2009), however, studies investigating learners’ real-time grammatical processing offers a less clear picture of the role of proficiency. An overview of research findings on psycholinguistic approaches to advanced proficiency in L2 parsing finds that learners are often native-like in their use of lexical-semantic information to guide real-time processing, but that employing syntactic information to an ongoing analysis of the input, for instance in establishing dependencies or applying grammatical constraints, is much more difficult for those of lower levels of proficiency, and, crucially, that even highly competent L2 users may not be native-like in this regard. On the other hand, research into agreement processing shows that advanced learners can access their grammatical knowledge on-line to detect violations, although this ability may also be dependent on other factors, such as L1/L2 similarity and individual differences in working memory or processing speed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Advanced Proficiency in Second Language Acquisition
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2017

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