Overlapping and distinct neural networks supporting novel word learning in bilinguals and monolinguals

Iske Bakker-Marshall, Atsuko Takashima, Carla B. Fernandez, Gabriele Janzen, James M. McQueen, Janet G. Van Hell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This study investigated how bilingual experience alters neural mechanisms supporting novel word learning. We hypothesised that novel words elicit increased semantic activation in the larger bilingual lexicon, potentially stimulating stronger memory integration than in monolinguals. English monolinguals and Spanish-English bilinguals were trained on two sets of written Swahili-English word pairs, one set on each of two consecutive days, and performed a recognition task in the MRI-scanner. Lexical integration was measured through visual primed lexical decision. Surprisingly, no group difference emerged in explicit word memory, and priming occurred only in the monolingual group. This difference in lexical integration may indicate an increased need for slow neocortical interleaving of old and new information in the denser bilingual lexicon. The fMRI data were consistent with increased use of cognitive control networks in monolinguals and of articulatory motor processes in bilinguals, providing further evidence for experience-induced neural changes: monolinguals and bilinguals reached largely comparable behavioural performance levels in novel word learning, but did so by recruiting partially overlapping but non-identical neural systems to acquire novel words.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)524-536
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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