Executive functions in English second language learning

A systematic mapping review

Keywords: executive functions, English as a second language, teacher training


Recently, neuroscience studies have helped the field of Education to understand how the brain processes information and how teachers can benefit from this knowledge, specially related to Executive Functions (EFs). EFs can be described as the set of skills which allow us to perform the necessary actions to achieve a goal. There are three core EFs: working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. In the field of second language teaching and learning, are these skills integrated into the classroom practice by teachers? If so, how? Does it benefit students’ learning somehow? Also, are EFs included in the curriculum of teachers’ training programs? Are future teachers being prepared to integrate EFs to develop their students’ skills? This study aims to look for clues about these issues in recent literature and to find studies with approaches to ESL that stimulate the EFs in the learning process and how these methods are developed in teachers’ training contexts using the systematic mapping study as a method. This study considered articles from 2011 to October 2021, looking for strings related to ESL, such as teacher training and EFs. The search showed results in Scopus, Web of Science, Pub-Med, Science Direct/Elsevier and data from specific SLA journals, such as Cambridge Core, Journal of English as International Language, TESOL International Journal, Linguistics Journal and Asian EFL Journal. The first search resulted in 5803, from which 3 full read after applying the inclusion/exclusion criteria. As the number of articles was very low, the snowballing method was applied, resulting in more 117 articles from which other 3 were analyzed. The six studies indicated that both qualitative and quantitative data are usually used. Also, it is possible to notice that studies relating aspects of neuroscience to the ESL approaches are still in the beginning. The articles’ authors mention the need for further studies. Teachers generally are not prepared to include critical thinking in their classroom practices. Studies which developed practices and gathered data show that the students’ critical thinking and metacognition improved. Teachers should have developed their own metacognition and critical thinking to enhance their students’ skills. 


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Author Biographies

Ângela Musskopf, Instituto Superior de Educação Ivoti (ISEI), Ivoti, RS, Brasil

Mestre em Letras pela Universidade Feevale, em Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brasil. Professora do Instituto Superior de Educação Ivoti (ISEI), em Ivoti. RS, Brasil.

Débora Nice Ferrari Barbosa, Universidade Feevale, Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brasil

Doutora e Mestre em Ciência da Computação pela UFRGS, em Porto Alegre, RS, Brasil. Professora e pesquisadora no Programa de Pós-graduação em Diversidade Cultural e Inclusão Social, em Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brasil.


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How to Cite
Musskopf, Ângela, & Barbosa, D. N. F. (2022). Executive functions in English second language learning: A systematic mapping review. BELT - Brazilian English Language Teaching Journal, 13(1), e42927. https://doi.org/10.15448/2178-3640.2022.1.42927