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Innovation
Language learning

The brain uses a shared mechanism for combining words from a single language and for combining words from two different languages, indicating that language switching is natural for those who are bilingual.

The brain uses a shared mechanism for combining words from a single language and for combining words from two different languages, a team of neuroscientists has discovered. Its findings indicate that language switching is natural for those who are bilingual because the brain has a mechanism that does not detect that the language has switched, allowing for a seamless transition in comprehending more than one language at once.

“Our brains are capable of engaging in multiple languages,” explains Sarah Phillips, a New York University doctoral candidate and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the journal eNeuro. “Languages may differ in what sounds they use and how they organize words to form sentences. However, all languages involve the process of combining words to express complex thoughts.”

“Bilinguals show a fascinating version of this process--their brains readily combine words from different languages together, much like when combining words from the same language,” adds Liina Pylkkänen, a professor in NYU’s Department of Linguistics and Department of Psychology and the senior author of the paper.

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