Neurobiological signatures of L2 proficiency: Evidence from a bi-directional cross-linguistic study
Mencl, William Einar
Frost, Stephen J.
Bick, Atira Sara
Rueckl, Jay G.
Pugh, Kenneth R.
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Henry Brice, William Einar Mencl, Stephen J. Frost, Atira Sara Bick, Jay G. Rueckl, Kenneth R. Pugh, Ram Frost, Neurobiological signatures of L2 proficiency: Evidence from a bi-directional cross-linguistic study, Journal of Neurolinguistics, Volume 50, 2019, Pages 7-16, ISSN 0911-6044, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneuroling.2018.02.004.
Recent evidence has shown that convergence of print and speech processing across a network of primarily left-hemisphere regions of the brain is a predictor of future reading skills in children, and a marker of fluent reading ability in adults. The present study extends these findings into the domain of second-language (L2) literacy, through brain imaging data of English and Hebrew L2 learners. Participants received an fMRI brain scan, while performing a semantic judgement task on spoken and written words and pseudowords in both their L1 and L2, alongside a battery of L1 and L2 behavioural measures. Imaging results show, overall, a similar network of activation for reading across the two languages, alongside significant convergence of print and speech processing across a network of left-hemisphere regions in both L1 and L2 and in both cohorts. Importantly, convergence is greater for L1 in occipito-temporal regions tied to automatic skilled reading processes including the visual word-form area, but greater for L2 in frontal regions of the reading network, tied to more effortful, active processing. The main groupwise brain effects tell a similar story, with greater L2 than L1 activation across frontal, temporal and parietal regions, but greater L1 than L2 activation in parieto-occipital regions tied to automatic mapping processes in skilled reading. These results provide evidence for the shifting of the reading networks towards more automatic processing as reading proficiency rises and the mappings and statistics of the new orthography are learned and incorporated into the reading system.