Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How do bilinguals switch from one language to another?

Is the bilingual brain made of boxes that allow the individual to switch between languages? A U.S. study sought to answer this question.

How bilinguals manage to switch from one language to another, depending on their speaker, and never get lost or confused? This issue has divided scientists for many years.

The boxes in the bilingual brain
There are two opposite schools of thought on this subject. The first group of scientists believe that bilinguals have a "box" in the brain dedicated to each language that they practice with ease. On the contrary, the others argue that the practice of all these languages ​​is mixed in a single box, and that bilinguals switch from one language to another balancing the sound.

To reach an agreement, a study published in the journal Psychological Science by a researcher from Arizona indicates that the bilingual brain is organized by "sounds".

Thus, a Spanish rolled "r" and an English sucked "h" would both be stored in a very specific case, accessible when the individual needs it.

The "Spanish mode" and the "English mode"
To reach these conclusions, the scientists studied 32 people, speaking English and Spanish since childhood. By making them listen to several words, sometimes pronounced in Spanish, sometimes in English, researchers have realized that it is primarily through the sounds that bilingual individuals are able to connect to a language.

"If they are set in “English mode”, they act as English people, and if they are set in “Spanish mode”, then they will behave like Spanish people", explains Andrew Lotto, specialist in the study.

Everything would be in the sounds, say the authors of the study. It is for this reason that a person wanting to learn a language late in their life would be disadvantaged compared to a young person, because they would be imbued with the sounds of their native language.

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