Past experience shapes ongoing neural patterns for language

Past experience shapes ongoing neural patterns for language

Early experiences may establish a foundation for later learning, however, influences of early language experience on later neural processing are unknown.

Researchers investigated whether maintenance of neural templates from early language experience influences subsequent language processing. Using fMRI, they scanned the following three groups performing a French phonological working memory (PWM) task: (1) monolingual French children; (2) children adopted from China before age 3 who discontinued Chinese and spoke only French; (3) Chinese-speaking children who learned French as a second language but maintained Chinese.

Although all groups perform this task equally well, brain activation differs. French monolinguals activate typical PWM brain regions, while both Chinese-exposed groups also activate regions implicated in cognitive control, even the adoptees who were monolingual French speakers at testing.

Early exposure to a language, and/or delayed exposure to a subsequent language, continues to influence the neural processing of subsequently learned language sounds years later even in highly proficient, early-exposed users.