The effects of bilingual language proficiency on recall accuracy and semantic clustering in free recall output: evidence for shared semantic associations across languages

Wendy S. Francis, Randolph S. Taylor, Marisela Gutiérrez, Mary K. Liaño, Diana G. Manzanera, Renee M. Penalver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two experiments investigated how well bilinguals utilise long-standing semantic associations to encode and retrieve semantic clusters in verbal episodic memory. In Experiment 1, Spanish-English bilinguals (N = 128) studied and recalled word and picture sets. Word recall was equivalent in L1 and L2, picture recall was better in L1 than in L2, and the picture superiority effect was stronger in L1 than in L2. Semantic clustering in word and picture recall was equivalent in L1 and L2. In Experiment 2, Spanish-English bilinguals (N = 128) and English-speaking monolinguals (N = 128) studied and recalled word sequences that contained semantically related pairs. Data were analyzed using a multinomial processing tree approach, the pair-clustering model. Cluster formation was more likely for semantically organised than for randomly ordered word sequences. Probabilities of cluster formation, cluster retrieval, and retrieval of unclustered items did not differ across languages or language groups. Language proficiency has little if any impact on the utilisation of long-standing semantic associations, which are language-general.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Free recall
  • bilingualism
  • semantic clustering


  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Psychology

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