Second language learning and academic achievement revisited : a connectionist deconstruction of the cognitive consequences of bilingualism

Anne Hawson
The original Threshold Hypothesis proposed in 1976 by Cummins as a reasonable explanation of the data gathered to that date on the cognitive consequences of learning a second language has gained widespread acceptance in second language teaching circles, but has been the subject of considerable debate among second language researchers. An examination of the critiques of the hypothesis as well as the responses invoked by these critiques reveals that much of the criticism is well-founded. Given
more » ... t the Threshold Hypothesis proposes that "cognitive" benefits or deficits can accrue through the learning of a second language, the conceptualization of cognition underpinning the hypothesis is important in understanding its inadequacies. Upon examination of Cummins' work, it is concluded that cognitive processing is considered by Cummins to be a discrete category of brain processing operating at the conceptual level. A fundamental premise of this thesis is that connectionism, which proposes that cognition is more appropriately described as operating on a sub-conceptual level, and as being intimately intertwined and dependent upon what have been regarded as "noncognitive" aspects of brain functioning such as emotion, attention, and sensory processing, provides a new and potentially enlightening perspective on cognitive issues. A critique of connectionism as a valid model of learning in the brain suggests that it has considerable validity, but cannot yet describe all types and/or all processes involved in learning. Nevertheless, it is concluded that a model of second language learning built upon the conjectures of connectionism could bring new insights into how second language learning in immersion situations affects brain processing, and thereby provide clues which might explain perceived cognitive benefits and deficits. The model developed proposes that, under immersion conditions, second language learners may be undergoing an attentional shift [...]
doi:10.14288/1.0054740 fatcat:m4z5sgaawnhmdhgkg7ltofflda