Bilingual People Rely on Native Language

BANGOR, Wales, June 2 (UPI) — Welsh scientists say they’ve discovered people who learn a second language in adolescence or later recall the sounds of words from their native language.

The researchers, Yan Jing Wu and Guillaume Thierry of Bangor University, said they found adults fluent in English whose first language is Chinese automatically retrieve their native language when reading in English. That finding, they said, will help researchers understand how the brain manages symbols and sounds in different languages.


Thierry explained although most bilingual people believe they function solely in one language at any given time, the study shows that is not necessarily the case.

“Bilingual individuals retrieve information from their native language even when it’s not necessary, or, even more surprising, when it is counterproductive, since native language information does not help when reading or listening to second-language words,” Thierry said.

Michael Chee of the National University of Singapore, who was unaffiliated with the study, said the findings show even though people who learn a second language later in life are discouraged from directly translating words from their native language, they may be doing so anyway.

The study that involved analyzing brain activity is detailed in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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