SLA Topic  Vivian Cook  

Vivian Cook: Bilingual Cognition and Language Teaching

handout for a talk 2004


1) There are some cognitive differences between speakers of different languages

2) L2 users might

3) what does research say?

4) implications for language teaching


L2 user: a person who uses an L2 for any purpose (as opposed to an L2 learner)
native speaker: typically a monolingual person who still speaks the language they learnt in childhood
multi-competence: knowledge of two or more languages in one mind

The NIVEA experiment (replication of Imai & Gentner 1997 with L2 users), Bassetti, B., Cook, V., Kasai, C., Sasaki, M., Takahashi, J. & Tokumura, Y. (EUROSLA, Basel, 2002)


  • the number of shape-based categorisations will increase according to experience of English;
  • the preference for shape and material-based categorisations of Japanese speakers of English will differ from monolingual speakers of both languages.

Type of Object



Complex object


Ceramic juicer, wooden juicer, ceramic pieces

Simple object


Cork pyramid, plastic pyramid, cork pieces



Reverse C Nivea, reverse C hair-gell, blob of Nivea

Preference for shape versus material by long-stay group (more than 3 years in England: N=18) and short-stay group (less than 3 years: N=18)

Main results

  • The group with more than 3 years of stay showed significantly more shape preferences than the group with less than 3 years.
  • L2 users with less than 3 years of stay were significantly different from American monolinguals, L2 users with more than 3 years of stay were not

Other Cognitive Differences of L2 Users

L2 users:

  • think more flexibly
  • have increased language awareness
  • learn to read more rapidly in their L1
  • have better communication skills in their L1

External versus internal goals

externalthe students' use of language outside the class-room

internal: the students' mental development as individuals

Some Internal Language Teaching Goals

  • general educational values

  • self-development

  • cognitive training

  • way in to the first language

  • development of understanding of language itself

  • understanding of foreign cultures