The Relationship Between Executive Functions and Language Competences in Middle School Children
Background. Mastering a first language at school is mediated by the regulatory abilities of pupils. An open question is how the executive functions implementing conscious self-regulation are related to language competences.
Objective. To study the relationship between basic executive functions (switching, inhibition, working memory updating, and error correction) and language competences.
Design. A sample of 104 Russian middle school children (aged 13–15 years) performed three cognitive tasks assessing basic executive functions and two tasks assessing language competences in the areas of punctuation, spelling, morphology, syntax, semantics, vocabulary, and style.
Results. Inhibitionwas mostly related to punctuation, spelling, and morphology competences and was most important in the first competences task, requiring the recognition of errors. Switchingwas mostly related to the competences in syntax, reflecting the importance of switching attention between alternative syntactic structures. Working memory updatingwas the most important executive function related to language competences, with a heavy focus on higher-level lexical, semantic, and stylistic competences. The role of updating was especially important in the second competences task, which required generation of well-formed sentences. Error correctionwas mostly relevant for the recognition of language errors.
Conclusion. While inhibition and switching affect aspects of constructing the surface form of a sentence, working memory is preferentially related to the construction of semantically appropriate sentences. Error monitoring and correction are generally related to the recognition of language errors. Conscious self-regulation and its cognitive mechanisms are systematically related to the development of native language competences in middle school.
Keywords: conscious self-regulation, executive functions, native language learning, language competences, secondary school.