"Language as a life experience: How using two languages shapes the bilingual mind and brain"
Judith F. Kroll
School of Education
University of California, Irvine
In the last two decades there has been an upsurge of research on the bilingual mind and brain. Although the world is multilingual, only recently have cognitive and language scientists come to see that the use of two or more languages provides a unique lens to examine the neural plasticity engaged by language experience. But how? It is now uncontroversial to claim that the bilingual’s two languages are continually active, creating a dynamic interplay across the two languages. But there continues to be controversy about the consequences of that cross-language exchange for how cognitive and neural resources are recruited when a second language is learned and used actively and whether native speakers of a language retain privilege in their first acquired language. In the earliest months of life, minds and brains are tuned differently when exposed to more than one language from birth. That tuning has been hypothesized to open the speech system to new learning. For the oldest bilingual adults, there is evidence that a life of being bilingual confers protections against cognitive decline. In this talk, I illustrate the ways that recent studies have shown that the minds and brains of bilinguals are inherently complex and social, taking into account the variation in contexts in which the two languages are learned and used, and shaping the dynamics of cross-language exchange across the lifespan.