Retaking control: L3 learning modulates inhibitory control in language production
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Inhibition has been proposed as a mechanism allowing speakers to produce words in one language while preventing or reducing competition from words in the other languages they know. However, little is known about the development of this mechanism in the course of foreign language learning. In a longitudinal production study with two sessions, we examined the development of inhibition ability in German-English bilingual speakers during an intensive Dutch (L3) course. Speakers named pictures in blocked and switched conditions, once in the beginning of the language course when L3 proficiency was very low, and once after 3-4 weeks of instruction when L3 had reached intermediate proficiency. Naming response time (RT) and event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured. We found a switch cost asymmetry with larger switch costs for L2 than for L1 in the first session. In the second session, however, switching costs were symmetrical, accompanied by lower L2 switch RT than in the first session. The decrease in switch cost correlated with inhibitory abilities as measured by the Simon task. Furthermore, L1 mixing costs decreased from the first to the second session, reflecting improved global control. In the ERPs, N2 amplitude was larger in the second than in the first session. Taken together, these findings support the notion that inhibitory control changes during L3 learning. We also found evidence that L2 needs to be suppressed more in an L3 than in an L1 context. This can be attributed to effects of foreign language status or to a difference in relative proficiency.
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen