Functional plasticity associated with language learning in adults
Paz-Alonso, Pedro M.
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Kshipra Gurunandan, Manuel Carreiras, Pedro M. Paz-Alonso, Functional plasticity associated with language learning in adults, NeuroImage, Volume 201, 2019, 116040, ISSN 1053-8119, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116040.
Learning a new language in adulthood is increasingly common and among the most difficult tasks attempted by adults. Adult language learners thus offer an excellent window into the nature of learning-dependent plasticity. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study was aimed at characterising functional neuroplasticity in adults at different stages of learning a second language (L2). To this end, a total of 34 adults, either intermediate or advanced L2 learners, underwent MRI scanning while performing a semantic judgement task with print and speech stimuli. Three separate analytical approaches were used to comprehensively map neural differences: print-speech convergence, L1-L2 similarity, and functional connectivity with language control regions. Results revealed that (i) print-speech convergence was not affected by L2 proficiency level, (ii) L1-L2 similarity was significantly higher in intermediate than in advanced L2 learners, and (iii) functional coupling of language and language control areas was higher in the advanced relative to the intermediate group during reading comprehension. The results point to significant functional differences between intermediate and advanced language learners, indicating that, even well into adulthood, increasing L2 proficiency modulates the functional similarity between L1 and L2 and the connectivity between language comprehension and language control regions, particularly in reading comprehension.