Blog Archives

Vocabulary size and depth of word knowledge in adult-onset second language acquisition

This study investigated whether adult-onset second language (L2) learners achieve native level vocabulary after decades of immersion. Vocabulary tests were given to three groups of participants: highly successful adult-onset learners of English, monolingual English speakers, and bilingual native speakers of English. Overall, the native speakers outperformed the non-native speakers; however, the rate of native like achievement was remarkably high among the successful adult-onset learners, which indicated that native level L2 vocabulary size and depth of word knowledge were attainable in adulthood. Factors that correlated with native level L2 vocabulary were: childhood caregivers’ education, verbal ability and literacy in the native language, and interest in word learning and daily reading. The findings suggest that the lexicon may be the potentially most successful area of adult-onset L2 learning.

from the International Journal of Applied Linguistics

The “Perceptual Wedge Hypothesis” as the basis for bilingual babies’ phonetic processing advantage: New insights from fNIRS brain imaging

In a neuroimaging study focusing on young bilinguals, we explored the brains of bilingual and monolingual babies across two age groups (younger 4–6 months, older 10–12 months), using fNIRS in a new event-related design, as babies processed linguistic phonetic (Native English, Non-Native Hindi) and nonlinguistic Tone stimuli. We found that phonetic processing in bilingual and monolingual babies is accomplished with the same language-specific brain areas classically observed in adults, including the left superior temporal gyrus (associated with phonetic processing) and the left inferior frontal cortex (associated with the search and retrieval of information about meanings, and syntactic and phonological patterning), with intriguing developmental timing differences: left superior temporal gyrus activation was observed early and remained stably active over time, while left inferior frontal cortex showed greater increase in neural activation in older babies notably at the precise age when babies’ enter the universal first-word milestone, thus revealing a first-time focal brain correlate that may mediate a universal behavioral milestone in early human language acquisition. A difference was observed in the older bilingual babies’ resilient neural and behavioral sensitivity to Non-Native phonetic contrasts at a time when monolingual babies can no longer make such discriminations. We advance the “Perceptual Wedge Hypothesis” as one possible explanation for how exposure to greater than one language may alter neural and language processing in ways that we suggest are advantageous to language users. The brains of bilinguals and multilinguals may provide the most powerful window into the full neural “extent and variability” that our human species’ language processing brain areas could potentially achieve.

from Brain and Language

Lexical and syntactic representations in closely related languages: Evidence from Cantonese–Mandarin bilinguals

Bilinguals appear to have shared syntactic representations for similar constructions between languages but retain distinct representations for noncognate translation-equivalents (Schoonbaert, Hartsuiker, & Pickering, 2007). We inquire whether bilinguals have more integrated representations of cognate translation-equivalents. To investigate this, we report two structural priming experiments in which participants heard dative sentences in Mandarin or Cantonese and described pictures using Mandarin (Experiment 1) or Cantonese (Experiment 2). We found that cognate verbs between the prime and the target led to a smaller boost than same verbs. This difference in priming could not be attributed to more phonological overlap between same verbs (i.e., identical) than between cognate verbs (i.e., similar but not identical). These results suggest that cognate verbs have separate rather than shared lemma representations across languages, even though their associated syntactic information appears to be collectively represented. Furthermore, we found an advantage for within-language priming over between-language priming. We interpreted this advantage as the result of a language node passing activation to all the lemmas linked to it. Implications for bilingual lexical and syntactic representation and processing are discussed.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

Influence of Second Language Cherokee Immersion on Children’s Development of Past Tense in Their First Language, English

Metalinguistic skills may develop differently in multilingual and monolingual children. This study investigated effects of immersion in Cherokee as a second language on young children’s (4;5–6;1) skills of noticing morphological forms/patterns in English, their first language, by comparing English past tense skills on two nonword and two real-word tasks between a Cherokee immersion group (N= 10) and an English-medium comparison group (N= 13). Only past finiteness (irregular forms plus overregularizations) on a real-word sentence imitation task was significantly different, with the Cherokee group performing better. The children learning Cherokee as a second language were progressing as well as their monolingual peers on English past tense marking and in one area had developed increased attention to productive morphological patterns.

from Language Learning

Working memory influences on cross-language activation during bilingual lexical disambiguation

This study investigated the role of verbal working memory on bilingual lexical disambiguation. Spanish–English bilinguals read sentences that ended in either a cognate or noncognate homonym or a control word. Participants decided whether follow-up target words were related in meaning to the sentences. On critical trials, sentences biased the subordinate meaning of a homonym and were followed by targets related to the dominant meaning. Bilinguals with high span were faster at rejecting unrelated targets when the sentences ended in a homonym, whereas bilinguals with low span were slower. Furthermore, error rates for bilinguals with low span showed cognate inhibition, while bilinguals with high span showed no effects of cross-language activation. Results demonstrated that bilinguals with high span benefit from shared lexical codes whether these converge on to a single semantic representation (cognates) or not (homonyms). Conversely, bilinguals with low span showed inhibition from the competing lexical codes, even when they converge onto a single semantic representation.

from Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

English Language Learners and Academic Achievement: Revisiting the Threshold Hypothesis

This nonexperimental study explored the predictive strength of English proficiency levels on academic achievement of middle school students in a sample of 17,470 native English-speaking (NES) students, 558 English language learners (current ELLs), and 500 redesignated fluent English proficient students (former ELLs). Results of multilevel analyses indicated that after controlling for relevant student- and school-level characteristics, former ELLs significantly outperformed current ELL and NES students in reading (effect sizes: 1.07 and 0.52) and mathematics (effect sizes: 0.86 and 0.42). The results support Cummins’s (1979, 2000) lower level threshold hypothesis predicting that upon reaching adequate proficiency in the language of schooling and testing, ELLs would no longer experience academic disadvantages. Refinements for the theory and directions for future research are discussed.

from Language Learning

Neural bases of language switching in high and early proficient bilinguals

The left inferior frontal cortex, the caudate and the anterior cingulate have been proposed as the neural origin of language switching, but most of the studies were conducted in low proficient bilinguals. In the present study, we investigated brain areas involved in language switching in a sample of 19 early, high-proficient Spanish–Catalan bilinguals using a picture naming task that allowed contrasting switch and non-switch trials. Compared to the non-switching condition, language switching elicited greater activation in the head of the left caudate and the pre-SMA/ACC. When the direction of the switching was considered, the left caudate was more associated with forward switching and the pre-SMA/ACC with backward switching. The discussion is focused on the relevance of these brain structures in language control in early, high-proficient bilinguals, and the comparison with previous results in late bilinguals.

from Brain and Language

Identifying Residual Speech Sound Disorders in Bilingual Children: A Japanese-English Case Study

Conclusion: Understanding the phonological characteristics of the native language can help clinicians recognize speech patterns in the second language associated with transfer. Once these differences are understood, patterns associated with a residual SSD can be identified. Supplementing a relational speech analysis with measures of speech motor control and phonological awareness can provide a more comprehensive understanding of a client’s strengths and needs.

from American Journal of Speech Language Pathology

Hemisphere lateralization is influenced by bilingual status and composition of words

It has been generally accepted that the left hemisphere is more functionally specialized for language than the right hemisphere for right-handed monolinguals. But more and more studies have also demonstrated right hemisphere advantage for some language tasks with certain participants. A recent comprehensive survey has shown that hemisphere lateralization of language depends on the bilingual status of the participants, with bilateral hemispheric involvement for both languages of early bilinguals, who acquired both languages by age of 6, left hemisphere dominance for language of monolinguals, and also left hemisphere dominance for both languages of late bilinguals, who acquired the second language after age of 6. We propose a preliminary model which takes into account both composition of stimulus words and bilingual status of participants to resolve the apparent controversies regarding hemisphere lateralization of various reading experiments in the literature with focus on Chinese characters, and to predict lateralization patterns for future experiments in Chinese word reading. The bilingual status includes early bilingual, late bilingual and monolingual. However, we have tested this model only with late Chinese–English bilingual participants by using a Stroop paradigm in this paper, though the aim of our model is to disentangle the controversies in the lateralization effect of Chinese character reading. We show here with stimuli written in Chinese single characters that the Stroop effect was stronger when the stimuli were presented to the right than to the left visual field, implying that the language information and color identification/naming may interact more strongly in the left hemisphere. Therefore, our experimental results indicate left hemisphere dominance for Chinese character processing, providing evidence for one part of our model.

from Neuropsychologia

Neural basis of single-word reading in Spanish–English bilinguals

Brain imaging studies have identified a left-lateralized network of regions that are engaged when monolinguals read. However, for individuals who are native speakers of two languages, it is unclear whether this pattern of activity is maintained across both languages or if it deviates according to language-specific properties. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate single-word processing in Spanish and in English in 12 proficient early Spanish–English bilinguals matched in skill level in both languages. Word processing in Spanish engaged the left inferior frontal and left middle temporal gyri. Word processing in English activated the left inferior frontal, middle frontal, and fusiform gyri extending to inferior temporal gyrus and the right middle temporal gyrus extending into superior temporal sulcus. The comparison of reading in Spanish greater than reading in English revealed involvement of the left middle temporal gyrus extending into the superior temporal sulcus. English greater than Spanish, however, demonstrated greater engagement of the left middle frontal gyrus extending into the superior frontal gyrus. We conclude that although word processing in either language activates classical areas associated with reading, there are language-specific differences, which can be attributed to the disparity in orthographic transparency. English, an orthographically deep language, may require greater engagement of the frontal regions for phonological coding, whereas Spanish allows increased access to semantic processing via the left middle temporal areas. Together, these results suggest that bilinguals will show adjustments to the typical neural representation of reading as necessitated by the demands of the orthography.

from Human Brain Mapping

Gender and Number processing in Chinese Learners of Spanish–Evidence from Event Related Potentials

Traditionally, age of acquisition (AoA) has been considered the single most important factor in second language (L2) acquisition and processing, particularly in the area of syntax processing. However, there is now growing evidence of the importance of other factors, such as the level of proficiency attained and the degree of overlap or similarity between the first language (L1) and L2 structures and possibility of transfer of features and/or processing routines. However, the relative importance of these factors and the nature of L1-L2 transfer are still unclear. To shed light on these issues, we recorded the electrical brain activity of a group of Chinese proficient late learners of Spanish, using the Event Related Potentials technique, while they read Spanish sentences containing violations of number and grammatical gender agreement (adjective-noun agreement and article-noun agreement). Unlike Spanish, Mandarin Chinese is an isolating language in which morphosyntactic features such as gender and number are not computed and so the ERP results from this group can help to clarify the role of L1-L2 transfer in morpho-syntax processing routines. The results included P600 effects for both gender and number agreement violations, with no differences between these disagreement conditions. These results are taken to support second language acquisition models which stress the roles of proficiency and L1-L2 transfer in L2 syntax processing.

from Neuropsychologia

Processing words in two languages: An event-related brain potential study of proficient bilinguals

In a previous study of native-English speaking university learners of a second language (Spanish) we observed an asymmetric pattern of ERP translation priming effects in L1 and L2 (Alvarez, Holcomb, & Grainger, 2003, Brain & Language, 87, 290–304) with larger and earlier priming on the N400 component in the L2 to L1, compared with the L1 to L2 direction. In the current study 20 native-Russian speakers who were also highly proficient in English participated in a mixed-language lexical decision task in which critical words were presented in Russian (L1) and English (L2) and repetitions of these words (within and between languages) were presented on subsequent trials. ERPs were recorded to all items allowing for comparisons of repetition effects within and between (translation) languages. The results revealed a symmetrical pattern of within-language repetition and between-language translation ERP priming effects, which in conjunction with Alvarez et al. (2003), supports the hypothesis that L2 proficiency level rather than age or order of language acquisition is responsible for the observed patterns of translation priming. The ramifications of these results for models of bilingual word processing are discussed.

from the Journal of Neurolinguistics

Bilingualism influences inhibitory control in auditory comprehension

Bilinguals have been shown to outperform monolinguals at suppressing task-irrelevant information. The present study aimed to identify how processing linguistic ambiguity during auditory comprehension may be associated with inhibitory control. Monolinguals and bilinguals listened to words in their native language (English) and identified them among four pictures while their eye-movements were tracked. Each target picture (e.g., hamper) appeared together with a similar-sounding within-language competitor picture (e.g., hammer) and two neutral pictures. Following each eye-tracking trial, priming probe trials indexed residual activation of target words, and residual inhibition of competitor words. Eye-tracking showed similar within-language competition across groups; priming showed stronger competitor inhibition in monolinguals than in bilinguals, suggesting differences in how inhibitory control was used to resolve within-language competition. Notably, correlation analyses revealed that inhibition performance on a nonlinguistic Stroop task was related to linguistic competition resolution in bilinguals but not in monolinguals. Together, monolingual-bilingual comparisons suggest that cognitive control mechanisms can be shaped by linguistic experience.

from Cognition

When deaf signers read English: Do written words activate their sign translations?

Deaf bilinguals for whom American Sign Language (ASL) is the first language and English is the second language judged the semantic relatedness of word pairs in English. Critically, a subset of both the semantically related and unrelated word pairs were selected such that the translations of the two English words also had related forms in ASL. Word pairs that were semantically related were judged more quickly when the form of the ASL translation was also similar whereas word pairs that were semantically unrelated were judged more slowly when the form of the ASL translation was similar. A control group of hearing bilinguals without any knowledge of ASL produced an entirely different pattern of results. Taken together, these results constitute the first demonstration that deaf readers activate the ASL translations of written words under conditions in which the translation is neither present perceptually nor required to perform the task.

from Cognition

Language selection in bilingual word production: Electrophysiological evidence for cross-language competition

Previous research has demonstrated that cross-language activation is present even when proficient bilinguals perform a task only in one language. The present study investigated the time-course of cross-language activation during word production in a second language (L2) by using a picture-word interference paradigm with event-related potentials (ERPs). Spanish-English bilinguals living in an L2 environment named pictures in their L2 English while ignoring L2 English distractor words that were visually presented with the pictures. Participants named pictures more slowly when distractors were semantically related or phonologically related to either the English name of the picture or the Spanish name of the picture than when picture and distractor word were unrelated. Interference was also detectable in the mean amplitude of the N2 peak (200-260 ms) and the N3 range (350-400 ms). The results suggest that lexical alternatives from both languages compete for selection in the process of L2 speech planning in a predominantly L2 context.

from Brain Research