Poster B68, Sunday, March 26, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Cortical plasticity of sentence processing after classroom-based training experience
Zhenghan Qi1, Michelle Han1, Jennifer Minas1, Amy Finn2, John Gabrieli1; 1Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2University of Toronto
Foreign language learning by adults typically takes place in a classroom setting, which simultaneously exposes learners to new and complex rules in phonology, morphosyntax, orthography, and vocabulary. The present study investigates how neural substrates underlying foreign sentence processing is reshaped by an intensive four-week Mandarin course in 24 adult native speakers of English. We employed a sentence-picture matching fMRI task in English, Mandarin and a miniature artificial language (MAL) that learners were never exposed to. Before training, participants’ in-scanner accuracy in both Mandarin and MAL conditions was not significantly different from 50% chance level. After training, participants showed greater gain in Mandarin than both English and MAL (F’s (1,23) > 6.8, p’s < .02). fMRI contrast between Mandarin and MAL changed significantly over the course of training. Before training, Mandarin sentences elicited greater activation in the right superior temporal gyrus (STG) than MAL sentences, indicating participants’ initial sensitivity to the tonal feature of Mandarin. After training, Mandarin sentences showed greater increased activation at left inferior frontal gyrus, superior parietal lobule, posterior STG and inferior temporal gyrus. Moreover, activation at left IFG in response to Mandarin as opposed to MAL prior to learning is associated with learners’ future success in acquiring holistic Mandarin skills assessed at the end of the course (voxel-wise p < 0.001, cluster-wise p < 0.05). These results highlight the dynamic plasticity of left language network at an ecologically valid learning environment and reveal the key role of left IFG in preparing learners for effective learning.
Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Other