Using Event-Related Potentials To Track The Neural Basis Of Second Language Acquisition At Home And Abroad

Open Access
Bloodgood, Daniel William
Area of Honors:
Interdisciplinary in Biology and Psychology
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Judith Fran Kroll, Thesis Supervisor
  • Michael Axtell, Honors Advisor
  • David A. Rosenbaum, Honors Advisor
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • ERPs
  • Study Abroad
  • Inhibitory Control
Previous studies have shown that language learners have increased difficulty speaking their native language (L1) when immersed in their second language (L2) environment (Linck et al., 2009). This suggests that immersion is an effective language learning technique precisely because access to the L1 is gradually lost, at least temporarily. Inhibitory effects have also been seen more generally in picture naming studies in which participants had to switch between naming in L1 and L2 (Misra et al., 2012). Previous studies have been able to capture the neural signature of inhibition of the L1 due to immediate consequences of using two languages, but little is known about the neural signature of gradual loss of the L1 due to extended immersion in the L2. In the present study we use Event Related Potentials (ERPs) to examine the neural consequences of study abroad. Here we test the same picture naming paradigm in learners before, during, and after immersion and find that learners display this inhibitory effect in all phases of the study. We also confirm that increased L2 proficiency comes at the cost of reduced access to the native language. Critically, we find that these effects are modulated by the duration of the study abroad experience with the greatest cost to the native language occurring during the first few months of immersion. The implications of the modulation in language activity found in this study are considered for the way in which the neural networks for language processing are adjusted by context and experience.