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Plasticity in the adult language system: a longitudinal electrophysiological study on second language learning


Stein, M; Dierks, T; Brandeis, D; Wirth, M; Strik, W; Koenig, T (2006). Plasticity in the adult language system: a longitudinal electrophysiological study on second language learning. NeuroImage, 33(2):774-783.

Abstract

Event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to trace changes in brain activity related to progress in second language learning. Twelve English-speaking exchange students learning German in Switzerland were recruited. ERPs to visually presented single words from the subjects' native language (English), second language (German) and an unknown language (Romansh) were measured before (day 1) and after (day 2) 5 months of intense German language learning. When comparing ERPs to German words from day 1 and day 2, we found topographic differences between 396 and 540 ms. These differences could be interpreted as a latency shift indicating faster processing of German words on day 2. Source analysis indicated that the topographic differences were accounted for by shorter activation of left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) on day 2. In ERPs to English words, we found Global Field Power differences between 472 and 644 ms. This may due to memory traces related to English words being less easily activated on day 2. Alternatively, it might reflect the fact that--with German words becoming familiar on day 2--English words loose their oddball character and thus produce a weaker P300-like effect on day 2. In ERPs to Romansh words, no differences were observed. Our results reflect plasticity in the neuronal networks underlying second language acquisition. They indicate that with a higher level of second language proficiency, second language word processing is faster and requires shorter frontal activation. Thus, our results suggest that the reduced IFG activation found in previous fMRI studies might not reflect a generally lower activation but rather a shorter duration of activity.

Event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to trace changes in brain activity related to progress in second language learning. Twelve English-speaking exchange students learning German in Switzerland were recruited. ERPs to visually presented single words from the subjects' native language (English), second language (German) and an unknown language (Romansh) were measured before (day 1) and after (day 2) 5 months of intense German language learning. When comparing ERPs to German words from day 1 and day 2, we found topographic differences between 396 and 540 ms. These differences could be interpreted as a latency shift indicating faster processing of German words on day 2. Source analysis indicated that the topographic differences were accounted for by shorter activation of left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) on day 2. In ERPs to English words, we found Global Field Power differences between 472 and 644 ms. This may due to memory traces related to English words being less easily activated on day 2. Alternatively, it might reflect the fact that--with German words becoming familiar on day 2--English words loose their oddball character and thus produce a weaker P300-like effect on day 2. In ERPs to Romansh words, no differences were observed. Our results reflect plasticity in the neuronal networks underlying second language acquisition. They indicate that with a higher level of second language proficiency, second language word processing is faster and requires shorter frontal activation. Thus, our results suggest that the reduced IFG activation found in previous fMRI studies might not reflect a generally lower activation but rather a shorter duration of activity.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
04 Faculty of Medicine > Center for Integrative Human Physiology
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:November 2006
Deposited On:23 Mar 2009 16:39
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:05
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1053-8119
Publisher DOI:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.07.008
PubMed ID:16959500
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-16047

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