Dear Jacqui, Please could you tell me more about working memory, language and learning?

Working memory is the ability to briefly remember information and use this information in your thinking over a short period of time. Your working memory is closely related to your ability to concentrate. You can remember information for a short while by concentrating on it, e.g. doing a math calculation in your head, but it disappears from your memory if you are distracted. You use your working memory for a number of things such as:

  • Keeping all the parts of a number in your memory while you calculate it
  • Being able to remember and follow spoken instructions
  • Reading and remembering what you read
  • Problem solving
  • Sequencing a task (doing each step in the right order)
  • Focusing on the task at hand without being distracted
  • Planning, organising and structuring your daily life

Working memory capacities vary between individuals and usually develops from 4 years old to adulthood. Those with poor working memory will start to lag behind other students when doing more complex tasks and this becomes noticeable in their learning from age 7 to 8. At this stage, it is also hard for them to keep up with the amount of language used in the classroom as they forget what is said and this impacts their attention. These students often have other learning difficulties including language impairment, reading and maths difficulties, as working memory is an important for developing vocabulary, concepts and verbal comprehension.