Researchers Map How Bilingual Brains Switch Between ASL and Spoken English This is your brain on bilingualism: A group of researchers mapped the neural activity of bilingual people to show how our brains switch languages. Specifically, the experiment mapped how the brain works when switching between American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English. In a study published in the Proceedings of ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   December 01, 2018
Researchers Map How Bilingual Brains Switch Between ASL and Spoken English
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Audiologic / Aural Rehabilitation / Augmentative & Alternative Communication / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   December 01, 2018
Researchers Map How Bilingual Brains Switch Between ASL and Spoken English
The ASHA Leader, December 2018, Vol. 23, 17. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.23122018.17
The ASHA Leader, December 2018, Vol. 23, 17. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.23122018.17
This is your brain on bilingualism: A group of researchers mapped the neural activity of bilingual people to show how our brains switch languages. Specifically, the experiment mapped how the brain works when switching between American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from New York University (NYU) and San Diego State University looked at 21 participants (average age of 33). All participants were professional ASL interpreters who were children of deaf adults. All predominantly spoke English.
Researchers instructed participants in different types of picture-naming tasks. In one, participants randomly switched between ASL and English. In another, participants switched between producing ASL and both languages simultaneously (a code blend) or between English and a code blend.

“Activating a new language comes relatively cost-free from a neurobiological standpoint.”

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) mapped participants’ neural activity. Results showed that when participants switched between ASL and English (or turned a language “off”), activity increased in brain areas associated with cognitive control. However, when turning a language “on,” the brain exerted no additional effort.
“Specifically, this research unveils for the first time that while disengaging from one language requires some cognitive effort, activating a new language comes relatively cost-free from a neurobiological standpoint,” says senior author Liina Pylkkanen, a professor in NYU’s Department of Linguistics and Department of Psychology.
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December 2018
Volume 23, Issue 12