Bilingual language learning: An ERP study relating early brain responses to speech, language input, and later word production

  • Garcia-Sierra A
  • Rivera-Gaxiola M
  • Percaccio C
 et al. 
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Research on the development of speech processing in bilingual children has typically implemented a cross-sectional design and relied on behavioral measures. The present study is the first to explore brain measures within a longitudinal study of this population. We report results from the first phase of data analysis in a longitudinal study exploring Spanish-English bilingual children and the relationships among (a) early brain measures of phonetic discrimination in both languages, (b) degree of exposure to each language in the home, and (c) children's later bilingual word production abilities. Speech discrimination was assessed with event-related brain potentials (ERPs). A bilingual questionnaire was used to quantify the amount of language exposure from all adult speakers in the household, and subsequent word production was evaluated in both languages. Our results suggest that bilingual infants' brain responses to speech differ from the pattern shown by monolingual infants. Bilingual infants did not show neural discrimination of either the Spanish or English contrast at 6-9 months. By 10-12 months of age, neural discrimination was observed for both contrasts. Bilingual infants showed continuous improvement in neural discrimination of the phonetic units from both languages with increasing age. Group differences in bilingual infants' speech discrimination abilities are related to the amount of exposure to each of their native languages in the home. Finally, we show that infants' later word production measures are significantly related to both their early neural discrimination skills and the amount exposure to the two languages early in development. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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