Neural bases of asymmetric language switching in second-language learners: an ER-fMRI study

Neuroimage. 2007 Apr 1;35(2):862-70. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.09.054. Epub 2007 Feb 26.


Using the ER-fMRI technique, the present study was designed to investigate the neural substrates of language switching among second-language learners. Twelve Chinese college students who were learning English were scanned when they performed language switching tasks (naming pictures in their first [L1, Chinese] and second [L2, English] languages according to response cues). Compared to non-switching conditions, language switching elicited greater activation in the right superior prefrontal cortex (BA9/10/32), left middle and superior frontal cortex (BA8/9/46), and right middle cingulum and caudate (BA11). When the direction of switching was considered, forward switching (from L1 to L2), but not backward switching (from L2 to L1), activated several brain regions related to executive functions (i.e., bilateral frontal cortices and left ACC) relative to non-switching conditions. These results suggest that neural correlates of language switching differ depending on the direction of the switch and that there does not seem to be a specific brain area acting as a "language switch".

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Multilingualism*