Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Kirsten Weber (Donders Series 85)

23 April 2012

Promotors: Prof.dr. P. Hagoort, Prof.dr. P. Indefrey

The language learning brain: Evidence from second language and bilingual studies of syntactic processing

Many people speak a second language next to their mother tongue. How do they learn this language and how does the brain process it compared to the native language? A second language can be learned without explicit instruction. Our brains automatically pick up grammatical structures, such as word order, when these structures are repeated frequently during learning. The learning takes place within hours or days and the same brain areas, such as frontal and temporal brain regions, that process our native language are very quickly activated. When people master a second language very well, even the same neuronal populations in these language brain areas are involved. This is especially the case when the grammatical structures are similar. In conclusion, it appears that a second language builds on the existing cognitive and neural mechanisms of the native language as much as possible.