Mouse tracking reveals that bilinguals behave like experts

 BIL Blog image - Apr 16Blog post written by Sara Incera and Conor T. McLennan based on an article in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

We analyzed how participants moved a computer mouse in order to compare the performance of bilinguals and monolinguals in a Stroop task. Participants were instructed to respond to the color of the words by clicking on response options on the screen.  For example, if the word blue appeared in the center of the screen and was presented in the color yellow, he or she was supposed to click on the response option containing yellow, which appeared in one of the top corners of the screen, and not on the response option containing blue, which appeared in the opposite corner. The ability to inhibit the blue response in this example is one measure of executive control. The bilingual advantage hypothesis states that lifelong bilingualism enhances executive control (e.g., Bialystok, 1999). Nevertheless, there is a debate in the literature regarding these effects. A number of studies have reported null effects of bilingualism across different executive control tasks (e.g., De Bruin, Traccani, & Della Sala, 2014).

We recorded when participants started moving the mouse (initiation times), and how fast they moved toward the correct response (x-coordinates over time). We compared two bilingual groups and one monolingual group. There were two bilingual groups to measure how different levels of conflict monitoring (having both or one language active) influences performance. Initiation times were longer for bilinguals than monolinguals; however, bilinguals moved faster toward the correct response. Taken together, these results indicate that bilinguals behave qualitatively differently from monolinguals; bilinguals are “experts” at managing conflicting information. Experts across many different domains take longer to initiate a response, but then outperform novices. These qualitative differences in performance could be at the root of apparently contradictory findings in the bilingual literature. The bilingual expertise hypothesis may be one way to account for these conflicting results.

In conclusion, bilinguals performed differently (started later but then moved faster toward the correct response) than monolinguals. These effects were maximized in the incongruent condition and in the bilingual group that had both languages active. One possible explanation for the conflicting findings in the literature related to the bilingual advantage is that bilinguals have a qualitatively different processing style that can elude detection by traditional reaction time measures. Bilinguals wait longer to initiate a response and then respond faster; therefore, an advantage would only be detected using reaction time measures when the benefits of faster responding outweigh the delay in initiating a response.

Read the full article ‘Mouse tracking reveals that bilinguals behave like experts’ here


Who could have imagined this kind of success for a scientific blog on bilingualism?

t1main.mind.tsFrançois Grosjean is interviewed about his Psychology Today blog, “Life as a bilingual”, by Ewa Haman, Faculty of Psychology, University of Warsaw.

The Polish translation appeared under the title, “Nie mógłbym nawet marzyć o takiej liczbie czytelników” on dwujęzyczność.info.

 Why did you choose to write a blog for Psychology Today?

When Carlin Flora, Editor at Psychology Today, wrote to me in the summer of 2010 to ask me if I would be willing to have a blog on bilingualism, I asked for a few weeks to think about it. The reason was that as an academic I mainly write scholarly papers, chapters, and books. Blog posts seemed a bit short at first (800-1000 words per post as compared to tens of pages for papers!) and maybe a bit too personal (I am more used to using the passive voice in my academic writing than the active voice). But then I looked around and saw, among others, David Crystal’s very successful blog on English linguistics. Here was a well-known academic, author and lecturer, who had been blogging for several years and doing so most successfully.

I also asked colleagues and friends what they thought and received many supportive messages. For example, Aneta Pavlenko, professor at Temple University, wrote to me that it would be a great way to popularize bilingualism as an interesting and important topic relevant to many lives in today’s globalized world. (It should be noted that Aneta joined me on the blog three and half years later and we are now both writing posts for it).

Since I was no longer teaching and I missed it, I thought it would be enjoyable to write introductory posts about various aspects of bilingualism for a general audience. So I accepted Carlin Flora’s offer and became a member of the Psychology Today blogger group. We were some 500 bloggers back then and are currently more than 750 writing about all kinds of topics in the many areas of psychology.

Is there room for a scientific blog on bilingualism?

There are numerous blogs on bilingualism, many of them written by parents of bilingual children,  and they are important for families who wish to follow in their footsteps and who are looking for support. But often parents are not themselves researchers in the field of bilingualism and do not always fully understand scientific papers. Those involved directly in that scholarly work can therefore play a crucial role in getting that knowledge out and explaining their own studies, and those of their colleagues.

I have worked in the field of bilingualism for many years – I started off with a Master’s thesis on bilingualism – and I have always wanted to put to rest the many myths that surround bilingualism as well as tell the general public about findings in our field. There is also the need to reassure bilinguals about their own bilingualism and to give those involved with children (parents, educators, speech / language pathologists, etc.) some basic knowledge about growing up with two or more languages. Hopefully, it will help them understand why and how bilingual children behave the way they do, e.g. develop a dominant language, show a language-person bond, refuse to speak a particular language at some point, mix their languages in certain situations, etc. I used books at first to inform those interested in the topic ­- I have written five books on the subject – but a blog can reach so many more people. After five years, more than 900,000 readers have come to the “Life as a bilingual” site, a number I could never have dreamed of with my books.

Finally, there is the need to constitute a small on-line resource on the bilingual person, adult and child, that people can come back to at any time. So far, “Life as a bilingual” has more than a 100 posts that can be consulted by anyone throughout the world (see here for a list by content).

What is the most difficult thing when writing a post for a popular science blog?

I love the challenge of having only 800-1000 words to present, as clearly as possible, the very essence of a topic and I thank belatedly my English teachers during my youth in England who made us do “précis” exercises each week. I didn’t like them at the time but they have proved to be extremely useful when you have to summarize two or three scholarly papers in such a small space.

This said, since the blog concerns every aspect of the bilingual adult and child, I often have to work hard to prepare a post that does not touch on my areas of expertise directly. This requires reading several articles, contacting one or two researchers, and then writing the post so that it tells an interesting story. It is far more work than appears at first.

There is also the question of finding a photo that fits the post since Psychology Today requires that posts be accompanied by photos. Not only must the photo be adequate but one must obtain permission to reproduce it – not always an easy task!

What are your private criteria for successful posts?

Successful posts are those that cover a particular topic well, where the message is clear, the data is clean, and our knowledge of the bilingual person, adult or child, has moved forward a bit because of it. They are not necessarily the ones that obtain the most hits though. For example, in a post entitled, Perceptual insensibility in a second language, I show how certain processing mechanisms in a second language may not be acquired (or only partly acquired) if the language is learned later in life. Of course, other processing routes will be used by late bilinguals, and they will process their second language well, but it won’t be the ones found in early bilinguals. This particular post, based on hard evidence, did fairly well but not as well as expected.

On the other hand, posts that I would characterize as simply satisfactory have done extremely well. One example is Those incredible interpreterswhich has proved to be the most successful post on the blog with close to 90,000 readers. Clearly interpreters feel encouraged by it and pass it on to others.

Some of the posts I really enjoyed writing are those which deal in a more personal way with actual people: one is on an outstanding bilingual academic couple I knew (The rose), another is on a person I would have loved to have met when she lived in Paris with her husband (Falling in love with a culture and a language), and finally there is the letter I wrote to my first grandchild when he was born (Born to be bilingual).

 Why do you think the general public should be informed about scientific findings on bilingualism?

 First, language is part of our everyday life and we need to inform the general public about findings in the language sciences. Then, since about half of the world is bilingual, and studies on bilinguals have been far less numerous than those on monolinguals until recently, we have the added duty of communicating our results on bilinguals not only to our colleagues but also to people who might be interested in them.

I am also convinced that some findings can change our attitudes towards those who live with two or more languages and the way we nurture bilingual children and educate them. Let me give one example. We have known for some time that bilingual children have as many words as their monolingual counterparts when both languages are taken into account but maybe not so when one examines each of their languages separately. Why is that? Quite simply because they are exposed to their languages in different environments and with different people – what I have called the Complementarity Principle. They will often encounter specific items in a context where only one language is used and this decreases the number of words they finally acquire in each language (see a post on this here).

The Complementarity Principle, a notion I developed more than twenty years ago, accounts for many other phenomena in bilingualism such as the ultimate fluency one attains in a language (at least at the lexical level), automatic language behaviors such as counting and praying (often done in just one language), the need to switch languages when the “wrong language” is used, the difficulty bilinguals have with translating, and so on.

 What advice would you give to researchers who strive to translate basic research into interesting and readable posts?

 Not all research has a direct impact on everyday life and one must accept that. But some findings can play a role in our lives as bilinguals, or in the lives of bilingual children, whilst others can change our attitudes towards bilingualism. We should then try to communicate them to a general public.

The person who writes about a finding must understand it fully and must be able to replace it in its context. He or she must also describe it clearly, without too much jargon, and show the impact it has on our everyday life. It is no simple task but if the researcher is also a good teacher, and enjoys explaining things to students, then there is a good chance that he or she will be able to write a clear and informative post.

 Would you consider popularizing research to be a kind of duty of every researcher?

 I strongly believe that as active researchers we should inform the general public of our research. For too long this has been left to specialized journalists who simply cannot understand the field they are reporting on as well as those involved in it directly. Some journalists may even hype up the story which in the end does more harm than good to our science. I give an example of this in the post, Does processing differently mean more efficiently? It is the duty of researchers, therefore, to communicate with the outside world in a clear, comprehensible, and balanced manner, so that their findings, at least the more important ones, become part of common  knowledge.

 Could you give some examples of how findings in research on bilingualism have influenced everyday practice?

 There are many but let me just take one. When I started working on the sign language of the Deaf, I realized that many signing Deaf were in fact bilingual, in sign language and in an oral language, usually in its written modality. I investigated this further and quickly came to the conclusion that the education of deaf children should be bilingual. It is the optimal combination of a sign and an oral language that will allow these children to meet their many needs, that is, communicate early with their parents (first in sign and then, with time, also in the oral language), develop their cognitive abilities, acquire knowledge of the world, communicate fully with the surrounding world, and acculturate into their two worlds. This led me to write a short text, “The right of the deaf child to grow up bilingual”, which since then has travelled around the world and has been translated into 35 different languages! It has also encouraged the bilingual education of deaf children. I talk about this in a post on my blog (see here).

François Grosjean is Professor Emeritus at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. He was a cofounding editor of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.



Bilinguals more likely to spot the difference? New research shows that speaking a second language may improve visual attention

BIL---Special-Issue-imageBased on an article in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 

A new study indicates that people who speak two languages (bilinguals) are more visually attentive than those who only speak English (monolinguals).

The research, published today [20 January, 2016] in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, was led by Dr Roberto Filippi and Professor Peter Bright from Anglia Ruskin University.

The study, which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, investigated the possible effects of bilingualism on visual short-term memory.

Adult bilingual and monolingual speakers were presented with two pictures (the original and a slightly modified version) of various scenes and required to press a key as soon as they could identify the difference.

The study found that the bilingual participants were significantly faster (2.9 seconds) and 11% more accurate than monolinguals in identifying the change in the picture.

Dr Filippi, director of the Multilanguage & Cognition Lab at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Our research is examining whether learning a second or a third language provides cognitive advantages or disadvantages across someone’s life span.

“Our work to date indicates that bilingual and multilingual speakers of different ages seem to have an advantage when performing non-verbal tasks requiring selective attention.

“A possible interpretation for this advantage is that bilingual speakers, in order to process one language, need to suppress the other. This constant inhibitory ‘mental work-out’ could in turn strengthen general cognitive processes such as memory and attention, helping bilingual speakers block distracting information.

“This hypothesis would also explain evidence showing that life-long use of two or more languages might offer protection against cognitive deterioration associated with normal ageing as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative conditions.

“It is important that the public, and in particular parents and educators, are aware of the potential importance of speaking more than one language on the development and maintenance of cognitive abilities.”

Read the full article ‘Evidence of an advantage in visuo-spatial memory for bilingual compared to monolingual speakers’ here

The bilingual advantage in phonetic learning

BIL SI Cover 2015Blog post written by Mark Antoniou and Patrick Wong based on an article in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 

Fundamental questions concerning language learning remain unanswered. Some foreign learners are able to acquire a foreign language very successfully, whereas others are frustrated by their lack of progress. It is not clear why some learners flourish while others in the same setting struggle. Our study, published in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition sought to shed some light on this topic.

Numerous factors are thought to be advantageous for non-native language learning although they are typically investigated in isolation, and the interaction between them is not understood. Firstly, it is often claimed that it is easier for bilinguals to acquire a third language than it is for monolinguals to acquire a second. This may be due to cognitive advantages associated with bilingualism, knowledge of a greater number of phonetic features, or greater perceptual flexibility that comes from having already learned an additional language. Secondly, closely related languages may be easier to learn because learners may benefit from their existing knowledge and fast-track their learning. Closely related languages are likely to share common features, and may thus allow a learner to skip having to learn those features. Thirdly, anecdotal evidence suggests that certain phonetic features (and perhaps even certain languages, more generally) might be universally more difficult to acquire regardless of prior language experience.

We tested each of these hypotheses in a series of experiments in which adults learned several artificial languages with vocabularies that differentiated words using foreign phonetic contrasts. In the first experiment, Mandarin–English bilinguals outlearned English monolinguals for both Mandarin-like and English-like languages, and both groups found the Mandarin-like (retroflex) artificial language easier to learn than the English-like (fricative voicing). In the second experiment, bilinguals again outlearned English monolinguals for the Mandarin-like artificial language. However, only Korean–English bilinguals showed an advantage over monolinguals for the more difficult Korean-like (lenition) language. Thus it seems that bilinguals, relative to monolinguals, show a general advantage when learning ‘easy’ phonetic contrasts, but similarity to the native language is useful for learning universally ‘difficult’ contrasts. These findings raise interesting new questions that we are pursuing in subsequent language learning experiments concerning the interaction between the characteristics of the language to be learned and individual differences among learners.

Read the full article ‘The bilingual advantage in phonetic learning’ here

Differences in Language Exposure and its Effects on Memory Flexibility in Monolingual, Bilingual, and Trilingual Infants

BIL SI Cover 2015Blog post written by Natalie H. Brito based on an article in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Although the majority of multilingual children learn languages sequentially, typically learning their first language in the home and their second language from school, a number of children are exposed to two or even three languages in the home from birth. Studies have found differences between infants exposed to one language vs. two on tasks tapping memory flexibility – as early as 6-months of age (Brito & Barr, 2014). Memory flexibility is the ability to retrieve past memories despite changes in cues and context, and memory flexibility has been tested using the deferred imitation memory generalization task. In this task, the experimenter demonstrates a series of actions with a toy, then after a delay, the infant is given the opportunity to play with the toy and demonstrate the previously seen target actions Generally, infants are able to recall the target actions when the toy is the same from demonstration to test, but fail to do so when there are inconsistencies in shape, color, or object.  The good news is that infants become better able to flexibly apply past memories as they grow older. For example, previous research demonstrated that monolingual 18-month-olds were unable to generalize across two puppets, a yellow duck and a black/white cow, but could do so 3 months later at 21-months of age. Using the same puppets, we found that bilingual, but not monolingual, infants were able to generalize at 18-months after a 30-minute delay (Brito & Barr, 2012).

In a recent study (Brito, Sebastián-Gallés, & Barr, 2015), we examined what factors may influence memory performance for bilingual infants. In the first experiment we examined the role of language similarity; bilingual 18-month-ols who heard to two similar languages (Spanish-Catalan) or two more different (English-Spanish) languages were tested on a memory generalization task and compared to monolingual 18-month-olds. In the second experiment we tested trilingual 18-month-olds exposed to a variety of languages and compared their performance to infants from the first experiment. Our results indicated that both bilingual groups (Spanish-Catalan & English Spanish) outperformed the monolingual groups, with no significant differences between the two bilingual groups. Interestingly, infants exposed to three languages from birth performed the same as the monolingual groups. For the trilinguals, it is possible that more experience processing the three languages is necessary and similarities between bilinguals and trilinguals may be more apparent later in life. These findings demonstrate early emerging differences in memory flexibility and contribute to our understanding of how early environmental variations shape the trajectory of memory development.

We invite you to read the full article ‘Differences in Language Exposure and its Effects on Memory Flexibility in Monolingual, Bilingual, and Trilingual Infants’ here



How do children who have recently begun to learn English map new L2 words into their existing mental lexicon?

BIL SI Cover 2015Blog post written by Greg Poarch based on an article in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 

How do children who have recently begun to learn English map new L2 words into their existing mental lexicon? We tested the predictions of the Revised Hierarchical Model (Kroll & Stewart, 1994), originally introduced to explain language production processes and the relative strengths of the underlying connections between L1 and L2 word forms and the corresponding concepts. To examine how children map novel words to concepts during early stages of L2 learning, we tested fifth grade Dutch L2 learners with eight months of English instruction.

In Study 1, the children performed a translation recognition task, in which an English word (bike) was shown followed by a Dutch word and the children had to indicate whether the Dutch word was the correct translation. The Dutch word could be on of three: the correct translation equivalent (fiets), a semantically related incorrect translation (wiel [wheel]), or an unrelated incorrect translation (melk [milk]). The critical stimuli here were the semantically related incorrect translations: the RHM predicts that beginning learners should not be sensitive yet to L2 semantics, and hence perform equally on both kinds of incorrect translations. The children, however, were already sensitive to L2 word meaning and took longer to decide that a word was an incorrect translation when it was semantically related than unrelated.

In Study 2 the children performed backward and forward translation production tasks, and were faster in the backward direction, indicating direct translation from the L2 word to the L1 word without the detour via the concept, as predicted by the RHM. Our results indicate that depending on the task, Dutch beginning L2 learners do exploit conceptual information during L2 processing and map L2 word-forms to concepts, but evidently more so in recognition tasks than in production tasks. Critically, the children in our study had learned L2 words in contexts enriched by pictures and listening/speaking exercises.

This is further evidence that manner of L2 instruction may majorly impact the activation of lexical and conceptual information during translation.

Read the full article ‘Accessing word meaning in beginning second language learners: Lexical or conceptual mediation?’ here

Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World

Post written by Jennifer Austin, María Blume & Liliana Sánchez authors of Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World.

Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking WorldBilingualism, and how it affects language and cognitive development, is a topic of increasing relevance in an interconnected world. In Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World, we examine how the outcomes of bilingualism are shaped by factors at the individual level, such as age of acquisition and the amount and type of input, as well as societal support for the minority language in the form of dual-language education and similar initiatives. By analyzing previous research on the effects of these variables on bilingual speakers’ linguistic representations, as well as their minds and brains, we have attempted to provide a better understanding of some emerging conceptual views of the bilingual speaker. We also discuss how societal maintenance of bilingualism differs within the three multilingual communities which are the focus of this book: Peru, Spain and the United States. The status of Spanish varies between these regions; in Peru and the Spanish Basque Country, Spanish is a high-status, majority language, and in the United States, it is a minority language with varying degrees of prestige. While these three communities are linked by the common thread of bilingualism in Spanish, they provide diverse perspectives on the experience of being bilingual in distinct cultural, political, and socioeconomic contexts.

In the first chapter of the book, we examine how the concept of bilingualism has evolved from early definitions which included the expectation that bilinguals should behave like monolinguals, as in Bloomfield’s definition of bilingualism as the “native-like control of two languages” (Bloomfield 1933: 55-56). Increasingly, contemporary theories of bilingualism view differences between bilinguals and monolinguals as expected and normal, rather than deficiencies on the part of the bilingual. In addition, we discuss how heritage speakers challenge previous expectations regarding bilingualism, namely that the first language acquired is always the dominant one (the “mother tongue”), as well as the language that is acquired in a “native-like” fashion.

In the second chapter, we discuss recent research showing that the two languages of a bilingual are highly interconnected at the lexical, syntactic and phonological levels. We also review evidence that the continual interaction between the languages of a bilingual has important repercussions for cognitive development in bilingual children beginning early in infancy. These include enhanced executive function skills stemming from bilinguals’ need to monitor and inhibit one of their languages, as well as enhanced literacy abilities for bilingual children acquiring same-script languages. Bilingualism also produces neuroanatomical changes in multilingual speakers, including enhanced subcortical auditory processing and increased grey matter density in the inferior parietal cortex, an effect that is modulated by language proficiency and age of acquisition. Finally in the second chapter we presented evidence regarding the factors that affect L1 and L2 attrition in bilinguals, including age of second language immersion, availability and type of input, and proficiency levels in each language.

The third chapter examines several theories which have been proposed to account for lexical and syntactic development in bilingual children and adults. While early theoretical accounts assumed that lexical and syntactic development occurred separately, more recent approaches have proposed that their acquisition is interconnected, a theoretical linguistic advance which finds empirical support in the studies of the bilingual lexicon by cognitive psychologists. In this chapter we also present research findings that have allowed the field of bilingualism to move from initial debates on unitary versus binary systems of representation to a more nuanced view of the development of the bilingual lexicon and syntax that involves the interplay of different language subcomponents.

The overall picture that emerges from this book is thatthe cognitive and linguistic effectsof bilingualism illustrate just how complex the representation and processing of language are in the human mind in ways that go beyond accounts based solely on the study of monolinguals.

To find out more about this new book published by Cambridge University Press please click here

Language use affects proficiency in Italian–Spanish bilinguals irrespective of age of second language acquisition

BIL SI Cover 2015Blog post written by Fabrizio De Carli based on an article in the latest issue of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Age is considered an important factor for the acquisition of new skills in the domain of language and in other perceptual and cognitive competences. Clear evidence of age of acquisition (AoA) effects has been found in the development of sensory systems, supporting the idea that specific brain functions can develop only during an early critical period, characterized by brain plasticity. The crucial role of infancy for the acquisition of basic language competences is supported by clear findings involving first language (L1) but its extension to second (L2) and further languages is controversial. Can adult people learn new languages and reach native-like skills? What factors or condition favor the acquisition of high proficiency in the new language? Experimental studies suggest that implicit learning and continued language use are major factors influencing bilingual proficiency.

According to the Declarative/Procedural Model (Ullman, 2001), language processing mainly includes: a mental lexicon, depending on declarative memory, a set of grammatical rules, and phonology, which both mainly depend on procedural memory. Accordingly, L1 acquisition extensively relies on implicit learning and procedural memory while L2 acquisition involves explicit learning and declarative memory. The convergence hypothesis (Green, 2003) suggests that these differences decrease when proficiency increases. However, beyond lexicon, grammar and phonology, verbal communication also involves pragmatic competences, enabling the use of sentences appropriate to the context, including figurative, metaphoric and idiomatic expressions. Another pragmatic competence concerns the communication in bilingual mode and entails the ability to switch between languages without code-mixing and interferences.

We present a study aimed at verifying the effect of AoA and intensity of language use on proficiency in a bilingual task and its relationship with cognitive skills. The study involved a group of Italian–Spanish bilinguals who performed a battery of cognitive tests and a bilingual test mainly involving pragmatic and lexical competences but not phonetics: it required the fast recognition of whole sentences having the same functional meaning in the two languages, so stimulating automatic language processing and switching. Statistical analysis showed significant effects of language use and cognitive skills, mainly switching and executive control, and a non-significant effect of AoA. These results indicate that intensive bilingual practice is a major factor influencing pragmatic bilingual proficiency, even irrespective of AoA, also suggesting that proficiency may be weakened when bilingual experience becomes occasional or ceases. The study also confirms the association between bilingual proficiency and cognitive skills which might reflect a positive reciprocal influence.

Read the full paper ‘Language use affects proficiency in Italian–Spanish bilinguals irrespective of age of second language acquisition’ here.

L3 Acquisition: A Focus on Cognitive Approaches

BIL SI Cover 2015Blog post written by Maria Del Pilar Garcia Mayo, introducing a new special issue of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 

Most available evidence suggests that, when acquiring a new language, our brains make the automatic and unconscious assumption that, at some or all levels, it ‘works’ like one of the languages we already know. Since this is not necessarily the case for all properties, when our mental processor ‘transfers’ the previously acquired language this may have positive or negative (and sometimes downright comical) results with respect to target-like performance. How does the brain determine this source of transfer? Which language should it choose? In second language acquisition this question need not be asked, but what if the learner already speaks more than one language? A majority of the contributions to this special issue of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition deal with these questions, which are inevitably related to cognitive economy: transfer, more often than not, saves our brain a lot of time and effort. Exactly how, and under which criteria, the transfer source selection task is performed is what our colleagues are trying to determine. Inside this issue you will find state-of-the-art research on transfer at the initial stages of third language acquisition and beyond, inspecting a variety of linguistic domains that range from morpho-syntax to the lexicon.

Development, a concept just as important as the initial state, takes a complex yet fascinating turn in third language acquisition. A number of papers in this monograph focus on the diverse paths that the course of language acquisition may take within the sphere of multilingualism: from a look at heritage speakers who embark on relearning their native language to a formidable four-year longitudinal study that tracked the progress of almost one hundred bilingual children as they learnt a third language.

Of course, there is room for doubt in this special issue. One of the contributions poses the sensible question of whether studying how third language learners process language will teach us anything we cannot find out by looking at second language speakers. Is there really a qualitative difference between second and third language processing, or is it just more balls to juggle? The answer is as multifaceted as the question itself, but it has great implications for the way in which our brain deals with language.

Ever wondered what we already know about the adventure of learning a third or further language? Come and find out by reading the special issue of Bilingualism here.

Bilingual Cognitive Advantage: Where Do We Stand?

Bilingual-post-Nov-14---V2Linguistic experience and its effect on cognition.

The following post by Dr. Aneta Pavlenko appeared on the Psychology Today blog, “Life as a bilingual”

Like all other walks of life, academia is not immune to fashions. In the study of bilingualism, one such trend has been the study of “the bilingual cognitive advantage”, the theory that experience of using two languages – and selecting one, while inhibiting the other – affects brain structure and strengthens ‘executive control’ akin to other experiences, such as musical training, navigation, and even juggling. This strengthening has been linked to a variety of findings: the superiority of bilingual children and adults in performance on tasks requiring cognitive control, resistance of bilingual brains to cognitive decline, and the delayed onset of dementia (see here).

Touted in the popular media, these findings captured our hearts and minds and for good reason: for those of us who are bi- and multilingual, this is good news and the focus itself is a pleasant change from concerns about bilingual disadvantage that permeated many early debates on bilingualism. But has the pendulum swung too much in the other direction? Has bilingualism become a commodity we are trying to sell, instead of an experience we are trying to understand? And is there, in fact, a consensus that the knowledge of more than one language offers us something more than the joys of reading and conversing in two languages and a leg up in learning the third, among other things?

For the remainder of the post, please click here

Baum, S. & Titone D. (2014). Moving towards a neuroplasticity view of bilingualism, executive control, and aging. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35, 857-894.
Valian, V. (2014, in press) Bilingualism and cognition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.