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1.  Native language change during early stages of second language learning 
Neuroreport  2015;26(16):966-971.
Research on proficient bilinguals has demonstrated that both languages are always active, even when only one is required. The co-activation of the two languages creates both competition and convergence, facilitating the processing of cognate words, but slowing lexical access when there is a requirement to engage control mechanisms to select the target language. Critically, these consequences are evident in the native language (L1) as well as the second language (L2). The present study asked whether L1 change can be detected at early stages of L2 learning and how it is modulated by L2 proficiency. Native English speakers learning Spanish performed an English (L1) lexical decision task that included cognates while event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded. They also performed verbal fluency, working memory, and inhibitory control tasks. A group of matched monolinguals performed the same tasks in English only. The results revealed that intermediate learners demonstrate a reduced N400 for cognates compared to noncognates in English (L1), and an emerging effect is visually present in beginning learners as well; however, no behavioral cognate effect was present for either group. Additionally, slower reaction times in English (L1) are related to a larger cognate N400 magnitude in English (L1) and Spanish (L2), and to better inhibitory control for learners but not for monolinguals. The results suggest that contrary to the claim that the L2 affects the L1 only when L2 speakers are highly proficient, L2 learning begins to impact the L1 early in the development of L2 skill.
PMCID: PMC4589520  PMID: 26351964
second language acquisition; psycholinguistics; event-related potentials (ERPs); N400; inhibitory control; cognate facilitation; bilingualism
2.  Clitic pronouns reveal the time course of processing gender and number in a second language 
Neuropsychologia  2014;62:11-25.
This study investigates grammatical gender and number processing marked on clitic pronouns in native Spanish speakers and in late English-Spanish bilinguals using ERPs. Spanish clitic pronouns were chosen as a critical grammatical structure which is absent in English, and which encodes both grammatical gender and number. Number, but not grammatical gender, is present in English, making this structure a prime one to investigate second language processing. Results reveal a P600 effect in native speakers for violations of both gender and number. Late but relatively proficient English-Spanish bilinguals show a P600 effect only for number violations occurring at the clitic pronoun, but not for gender violations. However a post-hoc analysis reveals that a subset of highly proficient late bilinguals does reveal sensitivity to violations of grammatical gender marked on clitic pronouns. Taken together these results suggest that native-like processing is possible for highly proficient late second language learners for grammatical features that are not present in the speakers' native language, even when those features are encoded on a grammatical morpheme which itself is absent in the speakers' native language.
PMCID: PMC4167495  PMID: 25036762
ERPs; second-language processing; grammatical gender; clitic pronouns; bilingualism
3.  Lexical constraints in second language learning: Evidence on grammatical gender in German* 
Bilingualism (Cambridge, England)  2015;18(3):502-523.
The present study asked whether or not the apparent insensitivity of second language (L2) learners to grammatical gender violations reflects an inability to use grammatical information during L2 lexical processing. Native German speakers and English speakers with intermediate to advanced L2 proficiency in German performed a translation-recognition task. On critical trials, an incorrect translation was presented that either matched or mismatched the grammatical gender of the correct translation. Results show interference for native German speakers in conditions in which the incorrect translation matched the gender of the correct translation. Native English speakers, regardless of German proficiency, were insensitive to the gender mismatch. In contrast, these same participants were correctly able to assign gender to critical items. These findings suggest a dissociation between explicit knowledge and the ability to use that information under speeded processing conditions and demonstrate the difficulty of L2 gender processing at the lexical level.
PMCID: PMC4554762  PMID: 26346327
grammatical gender; second language acquisition; proficiency
4.  Two languages in mind: Bilingualism as a tool to investigate language, cognition, and the brain 
A series of discoveries in the last two decades has changed the way we think about bilingualism and its implications for language and cognition. One is that both languages are always active. The parallel activation of the two languages is thought to give rise to competition that imposes demands on the bilingual to control the language not in use to achieve fluency in the target language. The second is that there are consequences of bilingualism that affect the native as well as the second language. The native language changes in response to second language use. The third is that the consequences of bilingualism are not limited to language but appear to reflect a reorganization of brain networks that hold implications for the ways in which bilinguals negotiate cognitive competition more generally. The focus of recent research on bilingualism has been to understand the relation between these discoveries and the implications they hold for language, cognition, and the brain across the lifespan.
PMCID: PMC4191972  PMID: 25309055
5.  The consequences of language proficiency and difficulty of lexical access for translation performance and priming 
Memory & cognition  2014;42(1):27-40.
Repetition priming was used to assess how proficiency and the ease or difficulty of lexical access influence bilingual translation. Two experiments, conducted at different universities with different Spanish–English bilingual populations and materials, showed repetition priming in word translation for same-direction and different-direction repetitions. Experiment 1, conducted in an English-dominant environment, revealed an effect of translation direction but not of direction match, whereas Experiment 2, conducted in a more balanced bilingual environment, showed an effect of direction match but not of translation direction. A combined analysis on the items common to both studies revealed that bilingual proficiency was negatively associated with response time (RT), priming, and the degree of translation asymmetry in RTs and priming. An item analysis showed that item difficulty was positively associated with RTs, priming, and the benefit of same-direction over different-direction repetition. Thus, although both participant accuracy and item accuracy are indices of learning, they have distinct effects on translation RTs and on the learning that is captured by the repetition-priming paradigm.
PMCID: PMC4900143  PMID: 23757092
Repetition priming; Bilingualism; Lexical processing
6.  Desirable Difficulties in Vocabulary Learning 
The American journal of psychology  2015;128(2):241-252.
In this article we discuss the role of desirable difficulties in vocabulary learning from two perspectives, one having to do with identifying conditions of learning that impose initial challenges to the learner but then benefit later retention and transfer, and the other having to do with the role of certain difficulties that are intrinsic to language processes, are engaged during word learning, and reflect how language is understood and produced. From each perspective we discuss evidence that supports the notion that difficulties in learning and imposed costs to language processing may produce benefits because they are likely to increase conceptual understanding. We then consider the consequences of these processes for actual second-language learning and suggest that some of the domain-general cognitive advantages that have been reported for proficient bilinguals may reflect difficulties imposed by the learning process, and by the requirement to negotiate cross-language competition, that are broadly desirable. As Alice Healy and her collaborators were perhaps the first to demonstrate, research on desirable difficulties in vocabulary and language learning holds the promise of bringing together research traditions on memory and language that have much to offer each other.
PMCID: PMC4888598  PMID: 26255443
7.  Understanding the Consequences of Bilingualism for Language Processing and Cognition 
Journal of cognitive psychology (Hove, England)  2013;25(5):10.1080/20445911.2013.799170.
Contemporary research on bilingualism has been framed by two major discoveries. In the realm of language processing, studies of comprehension and production show that bilinguals activate information about both languages when using one language alone. Parallel activation of the two languages has been demonstrated for highly proficient bilinguals as well as second language learners and appears to be present even when distinct properties of the languages themselves might be sufficient to bias attention towards the language in use. In the realm of cognitive processing, studies of executive function have demonstrated a bilingual advantage, with bilinguals outperforming their monolingual counterparts on tasks that require ignoring irrelevant information, task switching, and resolving conflict. Our claim is that these outcomes are related and have the overall effect of changing the way that both cognitive and linguistic processing are carried out for bilinguals. In this article we consider each of these domains of bilingual performance and consider the kinds of evidence needed to support this view. We argue that the tendency to consider bilingualism as a unitary phenomenon explained in terms of simple component processes has created a set of apparent controversies that masks the richness of the central finding in this work: the adult mind and brain are open to experience in ways that create profound consequences for both language and cognition.
PMCID: PMC3820916  PMID: 24223260
8.  The Revised Hierarchical Model: A critical review and assessment 
Bilingualism (Cambridge, England)  2010;13(3):373-381.
Brysbaert and Duyck (2009) suggest that it is time to abandon the Revised Hierarchical Model (Kroll and Stewart, 1994) in favor of connectionist models such as BIA+ (Dijkstra and Van Heuven, 2002) that more accurately account for the recent evidence on nonselective access in bilingual word recognition. In this brief response, we first review the history of the Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM), consider the set of issues that it was proposed to address, and then evaluate the evidence that supports and fails to support the initial claims of the model. Although 15 years of new research findings require a number of revisions to the RHM, we argue that the central issues to which the model was addressed, the way in which new lexical forms are mapped to meaning and the consequence of language learning history for lexical processing, cannot be accounted for solely within models of word recognition.
PMCID: PMC2910435  PMID: 20676387
9.  Language selection in bilingual speech: Evidence for inhibitory processes 
Acta psychologica  2008;128(3):416-430.
Although bilinguals rarely make random errors of language when they speak, research on spoken production provides compelling evidence to suggest that both languages are active when only one language is spoken (e.g., Poulisse, 1999). Moreover, the parallel activation of the two languages appears to characterize the planning of speech for highly proficient bilinguals as well as second language learners. In this paper we first review the evidence for cross-language activity during single word production and then consider the two major alternative models of how the intended language is eventually selected. According to language-specific selection models, both languages may be active but bilinguals develop the ability to selectively attend to candidates in the intended language. The alternative model, that candidates from both languages compete for selection, requires that cross-language activity be modulated to allow selection to occur. On the latter view, the selection mechanism may require that candidates in the non-target language be inhibited. We consider the evidence for such an inhibitory mechanism in a series of recent behavioral and neuroimaging studies.
PMCID: PMC2585366  PMID: 18358449
10.  Translation norms for English and Spanish: The role of lexical variables, word class, and L2 proficiency in negotiating translation ambiguity 
Behavior research methods  2007;39(4):1029-1038.
We present a set of translation norms for 670 English and 760 Spanish nouns, verbs and class ambiguous items that varied in their lexical properties in both languages, collected from 80 bilingual participants. Half of the words in each language received more than a single translation across participants. Cue word frequency and imageability were both negatively correlated with number of translations. Word class predicted number of translations: Nouns had fewer translations than did verbs, which had fewer translations than class-ambiguous items. The translation probability of specific responses was positively correlated with target word frequency and imageability, and with its form overlap with the cue word. Translation choice was modulated by L2 proficiency: Less proficient bilinguals tended to produce lower probability translations than more proficient bilinguals, but only in forward translation, from L1 to L2. These findings highlight the importance of translation ambiguity as a factor influencing bilingual representation and performance. The norms can also provide an important resource to assist researchers in the selection of experimental materials for studies of bilingual and monolingual language performance. These norms may be downloaded from
PMCID: PMC4109968  PMID: 18183923
11.  On the Time Course of Accessing Meaning in a Second Language: An Electrophysiological and Behavioral Investigation of Translation Recognition 
In 2 experiments, relatively proficient Chinese–English bilinguals decided whether Chinese words were the correct translations of English words. Critical trials were those on which incorrect translations were related in lexical form or meaning to the correct translation. In Experiment 1, behavioral interference was revealed for both distractor types, but event-related potentials (ERPs) revealed a different time course for the 2 conditions. Semantic distractors elicited effects primarily on the N400 and late positive component (LPC), with a smaller N400 and a smaller LPC over the posterior scalp but a larger LPC over the anterior scalp relative to unrelated controls. In contrast, translation form distractors elicited a larger P200 and a larger LPC than did unrelated controls. To determine whether the translation form effects were enabled by the relatively long, 750-ms stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between words, a 2nd ERP experiment was conducted using a shorter, 300-ms, SOA. The behavioral results revealed interference for both types of distractors, but the ERPs again revealed different loci for the 2 effects. Taken together, the data suggest that proficient bilinguals activate 1st-language translations of words in the 2nd language after they have accessed the meaning of those words. The implications of this pattern for claims about the nature of cross-language activation when bilinguals read in 1 or both languages are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3925769  PMID: 22686844
bilingualism; lexicon; translation; electrophysiology; ERPs
12.  When bilinguals choose a single word to speak: Electrophysiological evidence for inhibition of the native language 
Journal of memory and language  2012;67(1):10.1016/j.jml.2012.05.001.
Behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) measures are reported for a study in which relatively proficient Chinese-English bilinguals named identical pictures in each of their two languages. Production occurred only in Chinese (the first language, L1) or only in English (the second language, L2) in a given block with the order counterbalanced across participants. The repetition of pictures across blocks was expected to produce facilitation in the form of faster responses and more positive ERPs. However, we hypothesized that if both languages are activated when naming one language alone, there might be evidence of inhibition of the stronger L1 to enable naming in the weaker L2. Behavioral data revealed the dominance of Chinese relative to English, with overall faster and more accurate naming performance in L1 than L2. However, reaction times for naming in L1 after naming in L2 showed no repetition advantage and the ERP data showed greater negativity when pictures were named in L1 following L2. This greater negativity for repeated items suggests the presence of inhibition rather than facilitation alone. Critically, the asymmetric negativity associated with the L1 when it followed the L2 endured beyond the immediate switch of language, implying long-lasting inhibition of the L1. In contrast, when L2 naming followed L1, both behavioral and ERP evidence produced a facilitatory pattern, consistent with repetition priming. Taken together, the results support a model of bilingual lexical production in which candidates in both languages compete for selection, with inhibition of the more dominant L1 when planning speech in the less dominant L2. We discuss the implications for modeling the scope and time course of inhibitory processes.
PMCID: PMC3820915  PMID: 24222718
lexical selection; language production; inhibition; bilingualism
13.  Local and global inhibition in bilingual word production: fMRI evidence from Chinese-English bilinguals 
NeuroImage  2011;56(4):2300-2309.
The current study examined the neural correlates associated with local and global inhibitory processes used by bilinguals to resolve interference between competing responses. Two groups of participants completed both blocked and mixed picture naming tasks while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). One group first named a set of pictures in L1, and then named the same pictures in L2. The other group first named pictures in L2, and then in L1. After the blocked naming tasks, both groups performed a mixed language naming task (i.e., naming pictures in either language according to a cue). The comparison between the blocked and mixed naming tasks, collapsed across groups, was defined as the local switching effect, while the comparison between blocked naming in each language was defined as the global switching effect. Distinct patterns of neural activation were found for local inhibition as compared to global inhibition in bilingual word production. Specifically, the results suggest that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the supplementary motor area (SMA) play important roles in local inhibition, while the dorsal left frontal gyrus and parietal cortex are important for global inhibition.
PMCID: PMC3741343  PMID: 21440072
local inhibition; global inhibition; bilingualism; word production; fMRI
14.  When Language Switching has No Apparent Cost: Lexical Access in Sentence Context 
We report two experiments that investigate the effects of sentence context on bilingual lexical access in Spanish and English. Highly proficient Spanish-English bilinguals read sentences in Spanish and English that included a marked word to be named. The word was either a cognate with similar orthography and/or phonology in the two languages, or a matched non-cognate control. Sentences appeared in one language alone (i.e., Spanish or English) and target words were not predictable on the basis of the preceding semantic context. In Experiment 1, we mixed the language of the sentence within a block such that sentences appeared in an alternating run in Spanish or in English. These conditions partly resemble normally occurring inter-sentential code-switching. In these mixed-language sequences, cognates were named faster than non-cognates in both languages. There were no effects of switching the language of the sentence. In Experiment 2, with Spanish-English bilinguals matched closely to those who participated in the first experiment, we blocked the language of the sentences to encourage language-specific processes. The results were virtually identical to those of the mixed-language experiment. In both cases, target cognates were named faster than non-cognates, and the magnitude of the effect did not change according to the broader context. Taken together, the results support the predictions of the Bilingual Interactive Activation + Model (Dijkstra and van Heuven, 2002) in demonstrating that bilingual lexical access is language non-selective even under conditions in which language-specific cues should enable selective processing. They also demonstrate that, in contrast to lexical switching from one language to the other, inter-sentential code-switching of the sort in which bilinguals frequently engage, imposes no significant costs to lexical processing.
PMCID: PMC3668438  PMID: 23750141
bilingualism; language switching; switch costs; lexical access; sentence context; cognates
15.  When deaf signers read English: Do written words activate their sign translations? 
Cognition  2010;118(2):286-292.
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.
PMCID: PMC3034361  PMID: 21145047
16.  Processing subject-verb agreement in a second language depends on proficiency 
Subject-verb agreement is a computation that is often difficult to execute perfectly in the first language (L1) and even more difficult to produce skillfully in a second language (L2). In this study, we examined the way in which bilingual speakers complete sentence fragments in a manner that reflects access to both grammatical and conceptual number. In two experiments, we show that bilingual speakers are sensitive to both grammatical and conceptual number in the L1 and grammatical number agreement in the L2. However, only highly proficient bilinguals are also sensitive to conceptual number in the L2. The results suggest that the extent to which speakers are able to exploit conceptual information during speech planning depends on the level of language proficiency.
PMCID: PMC2904637  PMID: 20640178
17.  Losing Access to the Native Language While Immersed in a Second Language Evidence for the Role of Inhibition in Second-Language Learning 
Psychological science  2009;20(12):1507-1515.
Adults are notoriously poor second-language (L2) learners. A context that enables successful L2 acquisition is language immersion. In this study, we investigated the effects of immersion learning for a group of university students studying abroad in Spain. Our interest was in the effect of immersion on the native language (L1), English. We tested the hypothesis that immersion benefits L2 learning as a result of attenuated influence of the L1. Participants were English-speaking learners of Spanish who were either immersed in Spanish while living in Spain or exposed to Spanish in the classroom only. Performance on both comprehension and production tasks showed that immersed learners outperformed their classroom counterparts with respect to L2 proficiency. However, the results also revealed that immersed learners had reduced L1 access. The pattern of data is most consistent with the interpretation that the L1 was inhibited while the learners were immersed.
PMCID: PMC2858781  PMID: 19906121
18.  Cross-language lexical processes and inhibitory control 
The mental lexicon  2008;3(3):349-374.
Many recent studies demonstrate that both languages are active when bilinguals and second language (L2) learners are reading, listening, or speaking one language only. The parallel activity of the two languages has been hypothesized to create competition that must be resolved. Models of bilingual lexical access have proposed an inhibitory control mechanism to effectively limit attention to the intended language (e.g., Green, 1998). Critically, other recent research suggests that a lifetime of experience as a bilingual negotiating the competition across the two languages confers a set of benefits to cognitive control processes more generally (e.g., Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004). However, few studies have examined the consequences of individual differences in inhibitory control for performance on language processing tasks. The goal of the present work was to determine whether there is a relation between enhanced executive function and performance for L2 learners and bilinguals on lexical comprehension and production tasks. Data were analyzed from two studies involving a range of language processing tasks, a working memory measure, and also the Simon task, a nonlinguistic measure of inhibitory control. The results demonstrate that greater working memory resources and enhanced inhibitory control are related to a reduction in cross-language activation in a sentence context word naming task and a picture naming task, respectively. Other factors that may be related to inhibitory control are identified. The implications of these results for models of bilingual lexical comprehension and production are discussed.
PMCID: PMC2774929  PMID: 19907674
19.  When study abroad experience fails to deliver: The internal resources threshold effect 
Applied psycholinguistics  2009;30(1):79-99.
Some second language (L2) learners return from study abroad experiences with seemingly no change in their L2 ability. In this study we investigate whether a certain level of internal cognitive resources is necessary in order for individuals to take full advantage of the study abroad experience. Specifically, we examined the role of working memory resources in lexical comprehension and production for learners who had or had not studied abroad. Participants included native English learners of Spanish. Participants completed a translation recognition task and a picture-naming task. The results suggest that individuals who lack a certain threshold of working memory resources are unable to benefit from the study abroad context in terms of being able to produce accurately in the L2.
PMCID: PMC2731967  PMID: 19714256

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