How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?

Abstract

The ability to speak two languages often marvels monolinguals, although bilinguals report no difficulties in achieving this feat. Here, we examine how learning and using two languages affect language acquisition and processing as well as various aspects of cognition. We do so by addressing three main questions. First, how do infants who are exposed to two languages acquire them without apparent difficulty? Second, how does language processing differ between monolingual and bilingual adults? Last, what are the collateral effects of bilingualism on the executive control system across the lifespan? Research in all three areas has not only provided some fascinating insights into bilingualism but also revealed new issues related to brain plasticity and language learning.

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Figure 1: Two experiments comparing monolingual and bilingual infants' capacities to discriminate between languages.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank J. Abutalebi, D. Green, M. Burgaleta, P. Li, J. Corey, Y. Gilichinskaya and several members of the Center for Brain and Cognition at Pompeu Fabra University, Spain, for their comments on the manuscript. The authors are supported by grants from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013): ERG grant agreement number 323961; Cooperation grant agreement number 613465 - AThEME), the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (PSI2011-23033; PSI2012-34071; Consolider-Ingenio2010-CDS-2007-00012) and the Catalan Government (SGR 2009–1521). N.S.G. received the prize ''ICREA Acadèmia'' for excellence in research, funded by the Generalitat de Catalunya.

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Costa, A., Sebastián-Gallés, N. How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?. Nat Rev Neurosci 15, 336–345 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3709

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