Children who are bilingual may be better at learning new languages than those who learn only one language while growing up, a study has found.
The study is the first to examine bilingual and monolingual brains as they learn an additional language offers new evidence that supports this hypothesis, researchers said.
"The difference is readily seen in language learners brain patterns. When learning a new language, bilinguals rely more than monolinguals on the brain processes that people naturally use for their native language," said Michael T Ullman, professor at Georgetown University in the US.
"We also find that bilinguals appear to learn the new language more quickly than monolinguals," said Sarah Grey, assistant professor at Fordham University.
The 13 bilingual college students enrolled in this study grew up in the US with Mandarin-speaking parents, and learned both English and Mandarin at an early age.
The matched comparison group consisted of 16 monolingual college students, who spoke only English fluently.
The researchers studied Mandarin-English bilinguals because both of these languages differ structurally from the new language being learned.
The new language was a well-studied artificial version of a Romance language, Brocanto2, that participants learned to both speak and understand.
Using an artificial language allowed the researchers to completely control the learners exposure to the language.
The two groups were trained on Brocanto2 over the course of about a week.
At both earlier and later points of training, learners brain patterns were examined with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes on their scalps, while they listened to Brocanto2 sentences. This captures the natural brain-wave activity as the brain processes language.
By the end of the first day of training, the bilingual brains showed a specific brain-wave pattern, termed the P600. P600s are commonly found when native speakers process their language.
In contrast, monolinguals began to exhibit P600 effects much later during learning - by the last day of training.
Moreover, on the last day, the monolinguals showed an additional brain-wave pattern not usually found in native speakers of languages.
"There has been a lot of debate about the value of early bilingual language education," said Grey, lead author of the research published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.
"Now, with this small study, we have novel brain-based data that points towards a distinct language-learning benefit for people who grow up bilingual," she said....