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Slide Slam I8

Neural substrates of phonological processing in Chinese-English bilingual children

Slide Slam Session I, Wednesday, October 6, 2021, 5:30 - 7:30 pm PDT Log In to set Timezone

Tai-Li Chou1, Li-Ying Fan2, Hsin-Chin Chen3, Shiou-Yuan Chen4, Ioulia Kovelman5; 1National Taiwan University, 2National Taipei University of Education, 3National Chung Cheng University, 4University of Taipei, 5University of Michigan

This study is to determine how bilingualism influences children’s neural architecture for learning to read. We address the question by examining phonological literacy skills in English, a second language for Chinese-speaking Taiwanese first grade children. In adult speakers, Chinese spoken and written word processing engages a more equitable division of labor between semantic and phonological pathways due, in part, to the highly homophonous nature of the language and its orthographic representation. To understand how these cross-linguistic differences influence bilingual development, we asked 10 Chinese monolingual and 20 Chinese-English bilingual first graders to complete an auditory phonological judgment tasks during fNIRS (functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy) neuroimaging. During the imaging task, children heard three words and decided which of the two matched. The task included two levels of difficulty requiring either syllable (easy) or phoneme (difficult) segmentation. Monolingual participants completed the task in Chinese whereas the bilinguals completed it in both languages. Neuroimaging results revealed task difficulty effects, with stronger neural activation for the easy condition in the left inferior frontal gyrus. Yet, this difficulty effect was only present in English of the bilinguals but not in Chinese of either bilinguals or monolinguals. This finding suggests cross-linguistic difference in the development of phonological processes for learning to read. Moreover, bilingual speakers develop language-appropriate sensitivity for each of their languages.

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