Literal reading comprehension requires the readers to recognize or recall exactly what is stated from the original text. Inferential reading comprehension, on the other hand, demands the readers to “interpret the author’s meaning through connecting information that is implicit in the text” (Dennis & Barnes, 2001, p.352). Both literal and inferential comprehensions require readers to understand and interact “with the text to different degrees” (Dennis & Barnes, 2001, p.352). However, literal comprehension is independent of higher-level processing because they differ in their underlying constructs (Hannon, 2000). In terms of complexities involved in RC, inferential reading comprehension was found to be more demanding than literal reading comprehension (Rupp et al., 2006;
Sweller, 1994). Studies show that different cognitive tasks put different demands on readers’ WM in terms of the intrinsic cognitive load required by each task (Gough et al., 1996; Hannon, 2000). Hannon (2000) further argues that literal and inferential
comprehension exhibit weak correlation with each other because these two types of cognitive actions are actually two independent variables.
Literal reading comprehension is mostly characterized to be automatic recognition of information stated literally from texts and therefore is less demanding than inferential reading comprehension. As such, literal reading comprehension means that readers fully understand what messages authors intend to deliver. But at this level reads might not be able to generate further understanding beyond the text itself. From this perspective, literal reading comprehension is usually regarded as an inability to deeply understand texts and
thus is different from inferential reading comprehension (King, 2007).
The difference between literal and inferential comprehension is clear in the exemplary sentences suggested by Duke et al., (2011):
1. Roberto desperately wanted to buy a bicycle.
2. He took an after-school job sweeping out the bodega around the corner from his family’s apartment.
Literal comprehension requires readers to understand the literal message, including connecting pronouns to the antecedents. In the sentences above, successful literal comprehension means readers know the “he” in the second sentence refers to “Roberto”
in the first sentence.
At the level of inferential comprehension, readers use their world knowledge or to make logical connection among the text messages. In the whole process of reading, they not only apply relevant and useful background knowledge but also have to keep in mind the mental representation of what they have read. It could be inferred that Roberto’s desire for a new bicycle makes him work part-time at a bodega, a storehouse for wines or a small grocery store downtown. Furthermore, readers would infer that Roberto must be diligent and self-determined for he works for what he wants with his bare hands, because the word, bodega, reminds readers of their background knowledge about neighborhood’s grocery store. In general, writers usually do not literally state the motive behind
characters’ actions. Instead, they expect readers to use their world knowledge or
experiences to infer the personalities hidden behind characters’ actions (Duke et al, 2007).
However, under certain circumstances, readers might comprehend literal messages successfully but do not make correct inferential comprehension. It would be worth scrutinizing how WM interacts with underlying facets beneath RC before it is concluded that WM has significant influence on RC. Thus, there is an urgent need to investigate the influence of WM on literal and inferential RC. All in all, instead of regarding reading
comprehension as a global construct under the influence of WM, the current study is aimed at investigating the correlation between L2 WM and L2 RC in two
dimensions—literal RC and inferential RC.
Working Memory Capacity (WMC)
What is WM? As it literally implies, individuals’ memory is working and functioning in an active and available state in order for individuals to fluently cope with immediate cognitive tasks. It is active and not as static as short-term memory (STM3). Moreover, it is more than an ability to store information. Instead, Baddeley (2002) has suggested WM acts more like a cognitive skill or ability. It helps people temporarily store and process information in an efficient way in order to accomplish complex cognitive tasks, like learning, reading and reasoning. In order to understand the underlying constructs when it comes to the relationship between WM and RC, this part of literature review was mainly dedicated to the theoretical constructs of WM.
First of all, working memory has been regarded as a limited-capacity system that manipulates and stores information. It is regarded as a central component in human learning activities by cognitive neuroscientists. Scholars haven not come to an agreement about the specific definition of WM; however, there is no doubt that Baddeley’s
multi-component model is one of the most influential (Miyake & Shah, 1999). According to Baddeley’s multi-component WM model (Baddeley, 2000, 2003), WM is a
multi-component system which is composed of one supervisory attentional component (central executive) and three other subsystems—one processing phonological memory (phonological loop), anther processing visual memory (visualspatial sketch pad) and the other processing information related to long-term memory (episodic buffer). The
following part included the historical background of WM, Baddeley’s multi-component
3 STM stores individuals’ moment-to-moment thoughts and perceptions and the content endures over a short term only if individuals try to rehearsal (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).
model of WM, and other renowned theories about WM.