Brain potential and functional MRI evidence for how to handle two languages with one brain

Nature. 2002 Feb 28;415(6875):1026-9. doi: 10.1038/4151026a.


Bilingual individuals need effective mechanisms to prevent interference from one language while processing material in the other. Here we show, using event-related brain potentials and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that words from the non-target language are rejected at an early stage before semantic analysis in bilinguals. Bilingual Spanish/Catalan and monolingual Spanish subjects were instructed to press a button when presented with words in one language, while ignoring words in the other language and pseudowords. The brain potentials of bilingual subjects in response to words of the non-target language were not sensitive to word frequency, indicating that the meaning of non-target words was not accessed in bilinguals. The fMRI activation patterns of bilinguals included a number of areas previously implicated in phonological and pseudoword processing, suggesting that bilinguals use an indirect phonological access route to the lexicon of the target language to avoid interference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Multilingualism*
  • Reaction Time