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Between-Language Competition in Early-Learner Bilinguals

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To better understand the neural and cognitive functions of bilingual brains, recent research has begun to study both the general cognitive abilities of bilinguals and the real-time language processes of bilinguals. Findings suggest that, while bilinguals may enjoy benefits in executive control of cognitive function (compared to monolinguals), they also may suffer certain deficits in lexical retrieval as a result of two lexicons competing against one another. Much of the research examining bilinguals’ real-time language comprehension has used bilinguals who learned their second language after puberty, as it can be difficult in certain areas to find a sizeable population of native bilinguals (who learned both languages as children). In the present study, three language comprehension experiments record the eye movements of late-learner bilinguals, early-learner bilinguals, and monolinguals (as a control condition) during the processing of English and Spanish spoken instructions. Results replicate the mild deficit in lexical processing that late-learner bilinguals exhibit (e.g., competition between the two lexicons for recognizing a spoken word in one of the languages). However, it appears that early-learner bilinguals do not to exhibit this mild deficit. Discussion concludes that in order to enjoy the cognitive benefits of bilingualism and avoid the lexical processing deficits; bilinguals should learn both languages as early as possible.

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