Does studying in a second language affect our learning?

Tue, 02/27/2024 - 21:16
Authors of the study

Researchers from the Memory and Language group (, in collaboration with Loyola Andalusia University, have published an article on how studying in a second language (L2) affects our learning processes.

Currently, we often have to read and study through an L2 (second language) in which we may not have perfect proficiency. Studying in L2, compared to doing so in the native language (L1), is likely a true cognitive challenge for many individuals. The question is whether this extra cognitive load derived from working in L2 has consequences on the learning strategies needed while studying. In other words, can we effectively assess the difficulty of the study material (learning monitoring process) both in L1 and L2? Or does studying in L2 hinder this process, posing an additional cost that we must bear?

In this study, we investigate whether studying in L1 or L2 affects the ability to evaluate the difficulty of study materials (monitoring) and to control cognitive resources dedicated to memorizing them (control). In several experiments, different aspects of the words that participants must study and that could influence learning monitoring are manipulated: perceptual characteristics (font type), semantic (concrete or abstract words), and relational (degree of semantic relation between words). Thus, it was evaluated whether these manipulations affect the monitoring process both in L1 and L2 and if the language in which one studies has an impact on how memory is monitored and controlled.

The results showed that individuals perceived learning in L2 to be more difficult than in L1. Nevertheless, they were able to monitor the study materials correctly in both L1 and L2. Interestingly, this self-perceived difficulty did not hinder learning; in fact, individuals remembered the study material in L2 as well (or even better) than in L1. This suggests that perceiving studying in L2 as difficult implies that individuals dedicate additional effort during learning, which, in turn, may have a beneficial effect on subsequent recall. In summary, although learning in L2 may pose challenges, the data indicate that it does not affect the learning monitoring process, nor does it worsen short-term memory recall, as recall of words was similar in L2 and L1.

Full reference:

Reyes M, Morales MJ, Bajo MT (2023) Judgments of learning in bilinguals: Does studying in a L2 hinder learning monitoring? PLoS ONE 18(12): e0286516.


Marta Reyes Sánchez (@email)

Mª Julia Morales Castillo (@email)

Mª Teresa Bajo Molina (@email)