Published Online: December 8, 2015
Published in Print: December 9, 2015, as Language Learning

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Language Learning

"Past Experience Shapes Ongoing Neural Patterns for Language"

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Even if a child has long forgotten her native language, it still affects the way she thinks, finds a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers from McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute in Canada conducted brain scans while asking students ages 10-17 to identify nonsense words. The students were divided into three groups: monolingual French students, bilingual French-Chinese students, and studentsadopted from China before age 3 who spoke only French.

The researchers found that children who were exposed to a first language and then "forgot" it still processed words like bilingual—rather than monolingual—children. In particular, areas of the brain associated with working memory and attention became active when bilingual and adopted monolingual children performed language tests, suggesting that early exposure to language changed the way the students learned new languages, even if they forgot the first language.

Vol. 35, Issue 14, Page 5

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