4/28 Talk: The dynamics of learning and using two languages

Dr Eleonora Rossi from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona will be giving a talk  April 28th entitled The dynamics of learning and using two languages: Investigating second language acquisition, and its consequences for the mind and the brain as part of the 9th Annual University of Connecticut Language Fest.

Dr Rossi will be available for individual meetings on Thursday, April 26th (between 1 and 4 PM) and Friday, April 27th (between 9 AM and 4 PM). If you are interested in bilingualism and would like to meet with Dr Rossi, please send an email to Yanina Prystauka (yanina.prystauka@uconn.edu).

Abstract: Learning a second language (L2) past childhood can be a challenging task, especially when the two languages differ in their linguistic structures (Sabourin & Stowe, 2008). At the same time, bilinguals, even at lower levels of proficiency are able to negotiate two languages with relative ease even in the presence of conflicting linguistic structures (Kroll et al., 2014), revealing a fine-tuned system for language control (Abutalebi & Green, 2007). During my talk, I will examine the linguistic and neural signatures of second language processing in adult learners, and I will propose that it can be used as a lens to examine the relative plasticity of the linguistic and neural systems. I will first present behavioral and neuroimaging data analyzing the processing of grammatical structures that are not shared between the native and the second language. Behavioral and electrophysiological (EEG) results will provide evidence supporting the view that L2 learners show similar neural signatures to those observed in native speakers, suggesting that there is a higher degree of plasticity for adult L2 learners than typically assumed. Building on that observation, I will then address the question of how bilinguals manage to negotiate the activity of the two languages in one mind and brain. Towards that goal, I will present recent neuroimaging data revealing that bilinguals possess a powerful neural control mechanism that allows successful selection of the language to be spoken. I will also demonstrate that the recruitment of those neural substrates is shaped by different language use. Finally, I will discuss how learning an L2 past childhood can be a catalyst for reshaping the structure of the brain itself by strengthening the white-matter pathways that are dedicated to language processing and language control. In the final part of the talk I will describe future directions for my research program.