How does the bilingual brain work? Cognitive neuroscientists discover more

How does the bilingual brain work? Cognitive neuroscientists discover more

Cognitive neuroscientists have found out more about how the bilingual brains works, according to a new research paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous work in the cognitive neuroscience field had narrowed down the brain regions which are involved in switching between two language. However, the actions of turning one language off, and then switching on another, happen simultaneously in the bilingual brain. Researchers have previously been unable to show exactly where the switch happens because they needed to study someone who can speak two languages at the same time to do this, an impressive skill which many people have not perfected.

The recent research was carried out to establish exactly how the bilingual brain is able to switch between two languages effectively. The cognitive neuroscientists have now found that the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex play a key role in how the bilingual brain switches from one language to another.

How is the bilingual brain defined?

The paper says: ‘Bilingual individuals have the ability to switch between two languages, which requires engaging cognitive control processes to simultaneously “turn off” (disengage) one language and “turn on” (engage) their other language.’

How was the research carried out?

A team from New York University and San Diego State University recruited volunteers who were fluent in both English and American Sign Language (ASL) to study the bilingual brain. The participants were asked to produce English and ASL simultaneously. The team used magnetoencephalography, a brain imaging technique which measures magnetic fields in the brain.

Conclusions about the bilingual brain

Not only did the research confirm that switch between two languages happens in the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex, they also found that the brain finds it much easier to switch in to speaking a language, rather than switch out. There is further research to be done on how language actions occur in the brain, but this study represents an important step in clarifying the bilingual brain.


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