Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Volume 13. Number 4 December 2022                               Pp.468-485

Full paper PDF 

Verbal and Visuospatial Working Memory in Arabic-English Female Bilinguals: Is There
an Advantage?

Lubna Abdullah Alazzaz
Department of Linguistics
College of Languages and Translation
King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Fatimah Almutrafi
Department of English Language and Translation
College of Languages and Translation
King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Corresponding author:


Received:06/27/2022         Accepted:11/25/2022                 Published: 12/15/2022


This study sheds light on the effect of bilingualism on working memory performance. It aims to investigate whether bilingual speakers have an advantage over monolingual speakers in performing visual-spatial working memory tasks. The present study attempts to be a contribution to the discussion of how working memory performance is affected by bilingualism. It tries to find out whether Arabic-English bilingual speakers have advantages over Arabic monolingual speakers in performing visual-spatial working memory tasks. Two experiments were conducted to test the working memory performance of bilinguals and monolinguals by using verbal and non-verbal tasks. The two measures were completed online; the non-verbal measure involved a picture memorization task, whereas the verbal measure involved word retrieval. Eighty female college students voluntarily participated in the study. Half were Arabic-English bilinguals, and the other half were Arabic monolinguals. Both groups were divided into two subgroups; half performed a non-verbal working memory task, and the other half participated in a verbal working memory task. The results showed no advantages for bilinguals in the picture memorization task. However, a bilingual advantage was found in the verbal working memory task in which bilingual speakers performed better in word retrieval compared to monolingual speakers. The findings indicate a positive effect of bilingualism on working memory performance, particularly in the visual-spatial component.
Keywords: bilingualism, bilingual-advantage, visual-spatial, working-memory

Cite as: Alazzaz, L. A., & Almutrafi, F. (2022). Verbal and Visuospatial Working Memory in Arabic-English Female Bilinguals: Is There an Advantage? Arab World English Journal, 13 (4) 468-485.


Adesope, O. O., Lavin, T., Thompson, T., & Ungerleider, C. (2010). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Review of Educational Research, 80(2), 207-245. Available at

Alarcon, T. V. (2022). Language proficiency, test anxiety and their effect on working memory capacity (Doctoral dissertation). Available at

Anjomshoae, F. (2022). Testing Effects of Bilingualism on Inhibition, Shifting and Working Memory Ability in Adults.

Antón, E., Carreiras, M., & Duñabeitia, J. A. (2019). The impact of bilingualism on executive functions and working memory in young adults. PloS ONE, 14(2), e0206770. Available at

Asadollahpour, F., Baghban, K., Mirbalochzehi, P., Naderifar, E., & Tahmasebi, B. (2015). The performance of bilingual and monolingual children on working memory tasks. Retrieved from

Baddeley, A. (2003). Working memory and language: An overview. Journal of communication disorders, 36(3), 189-208. Retrieved from

Baddeley, A. (2012). Working memory: theories, models, and controversies. Annual review of psychology, 63, 1-29. Available at

Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. In G. A. Bower (ed.), Psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 8, pp. 47-89). Academic press.

Bialystok, E. (2009). Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent. Bilingualism, 12(1), 3-11.

Bialystok, E. (2015). Bilingualism and the development of executive function: The role of attention. Child development perspectives9(2), 117-121. Retrieved from

Bialystok, E. et al. (2005). Effect of bilingualism on cognitive control in the Simon task: Evidence from MEG. NeuroImage, 24(1), 40-49.

Blom, E., Küntay, A. C., Messer, M., Verhagen, J., & Leseman, P. (2014). The benefits of being bilingual: Working memory in bilingual Turkish–Dutch children. Journal of experimental child psychology, 128, 105-119.

Bonifacci, P., Giombini, L., Bellocchi, S., & Contento, S. (2011). Speed of processing, anticipation, inhibition and working memory in bilinguals. Developmental science, 14(2), 256-269.

Cook, V., & Singleton, D. (2014). Key topics in second language acquisition (Vol. 10). Multilingual matters.

Engel de Abreu, P. M. (2011). Working memory in multilingual children: Is there a bilingual effect? Memory, 19(5), 529-537. Retrieved from

Evans, G. W., & Schamberg, M. A. (2009). Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(16), 6545- 6549.

Filippi, et al. (2022). Modulatory effects of SES and multilinguistic experience on cognitive development: a longitudinal data analysis of multilingual and monolingual adolescents from the SCAMP cohort. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 1-18.

Francis, W. S. et al. (2018). The effects of bilingual language proficiency on recall accuracy and semantic clustering in free recall output: evidence for shared semantic associations across languages. Memory, 26(10), 1364-1378.

Gollan, T. H., Montoya, R. I., Fennema-Notestine, C., & Morris, S. K. (2005). Bilingualism affects picture naming but not picture classification. Memory & cognition, 33(7), 1220-1234. Retrieved from

Grundy, J. G. (2020). The effects of bilingualism on executive functions: An updated quantitative analysis. Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science, 1-23. Retrieved from

Grundy, J. G., & Timmer, K. (2017). Bilingualism and working memory capacity: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Second Language Research, 33(3), 325-340. Retrieved from

Hackman, D. A., & Farah, M. J. (2009). Socioeconomic status and the developing brain. Trends in cognitive sciences, 13(2), 65-73.

Hoffmann, C. (2014). Introduction to Bilingualism. Abingdon: Routledge. Available at

Kaushanskaya, M., Blumenfeld, H. K., & Marian, V. (2011). The relationship between vocabulary and short-term memory measures in monolingual and bilingual speakers. The international journal of bilingualism: cross-disciplinary, cross- linguistic studies of language behavior, 15(4), 408–425.

Kaushanskaya, M., Gross, M., & Buac, M. (2014). Effects of classroom bilingualism on task‐ shifting, verbal memory, and word learning in children. Developmental science, 17(4), 564-583.

Kerrigan, L., Thomas, M. S., Bright, P., & Filippi, R. (2017). Evidence of an advantage in visuo-spatial memory for bilingual compared to monolingual speakers. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 20(3), 602-612. Retrieved from

Kharkhurin, A. V. (2010). Bilingual verbal and nonverbal creative behavior. International journal of bilingualism, 14(2), 211-226. Available at

Khashawi, F. (2020). Verbal and visual-spatial working memory performance in Arabic monolingual and English/Arabic bilingual Kuwaiti children. European Psychiatry, 33(S1), S369-S369.

Ljungberg, J. K., Hansson, P., Andrés, P., Josefsson, M., & Nilsson, L. G. (2013). A longitudinal study of memory advantages in bilinguals. PloS ONE, 8(9), e73029.

Luo, L., Craik, F. I., Moreno, S., & Bialystok, E. (2013). Bilingualism interacts with domain in a working memory task: evidence from aging. Psychology and aging, 28(1), 28-34.

Luo, L., Luk, G., & Bialystok, E. (2010). Effect of language proficiency and executive control on verbal fluency performance in bilinguals. Cognition, 114(1), 29–41.

McLeod, S. A. (2012). Working memory. Simply Psychology. Available at

McVeigh, C., Wylie, J., & Mulhern, G. (2019). Verbal and visuospatial working memory in immersion-educated bilingual children. International journal of bilingual education and bilingualism, 22(4), 505-517.

Morales, J., Calvo, A., & Bialystok, E. (2012). Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children. Journal of experimental child psychology, 114(2), 187-202.

Orozco, J. A. (2020). Working Memory Performance in Spanish-English Bilinguals’ First and Second Languages. Available at

Parker Jones, Ō. et al. (2012). Where, when and why brain activation differs for bilinguals and monolinguals during picture naming and reading aloud. Cerebral Cortex, 22(4), 892- 902.

Patra, A., Bose, A., & Marinis, T. (2021). Semantic context effects in monolingual and bilingual speakers. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 57, 100942.

Ransdell, S. E., & Fischler, I. (1987). Memory in a monolingual mode: When are bilinguals at a disadvantage? Journal of Memory and Language, 26(4), 392-405. Available at

Ratiu, I., & Azuma, T. (2015). Working memory capacity: Is there a bilingual advantage? Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 27(1), 1-11.

Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of experimental psychology: Human learning and memory, 6(2), 174-215.

Sullivan, M. D., Poarch, G. J., & Bialystok, E. (2018). Why is lexical retrieval slower for bilinguals? Evidence from picture naming. Bilingualism (Cambridge, England), 21(3), 479.

Trevisol, J. R., & Tomitch, L. M. B. (2017). The relationship between bilingualism and working memory: a review. Revista do GELNE, 19(1), 39-51.

Yang, E. (2017). Bilinguals’ working memory (WM) advantage and their dual language practices. Brain sciences, 7(7), 86.

Yoo, J., & Kaushanskaya, M. (2012). Phonological memory in bilinguals and monolinguals. Memory & Cognition, 40(8), 1314-1330. Retrieved from

Zeng, Z., Kalashnikova, M., & Antoniou, M. (2019). Integrating bilingualism, verbal fluency, and executive functioning across the lifespan. Journal of Cognition and Development, 20(5), 656-679. Available at

Received: 06/27/2022
Accepted: 11/25/2022  
Published: 12/15/2022

Lubna Abdullah Alazzaz holds BA degree in English language and literature from the College of Languages and Translation at IMISIU in 2018. She received her MA degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the College of Languages and Translation at KSU in 2022. Her research interests revolve around second language acquisition and psycholinguistics.

 Fatimah Almutrafi an assistant professor at King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She received her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Newcastle University, Newcastle, United Kingdom. Her research interests include: language learning in EFL contexts, bilingualism, psycholinguistics, and the relationship between language and cognition in bilinguals and second language learners.