Feb 8th 2016

The Bilingual Brain (Coursera)

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This course explores the brain bases of bilingualism by discussing literature relevant to differences in age of initial learning, proficiency, and control in the nonverbal, single language and dual-language literature. Participants will learn about the latest research related to how humans learn one or two languages and other cognitive skills.

How do two languages get processed in one brain? For over 100 years, researchers have asked this question in a variety of manners. From this early literature, there emerged three basic principles that influence the neural bases of bilingualism: when a language is learned (age of acquisition), how well it is spoken (proficiency), and the control needed to switch or select a particular language (cognitive control). Interestingly, age of acquisition, language proficiency, and cognitive control are not specific to learning two languages. The topics appear both in the acquisition of a first language and of nonverbal skills such as music and sports.

An introduction during the first week sets the stage for how the course will evolve in each of the subsequent weeks. After that the course is structured across the three main topics, age of acquisition, proficiency and control. For each of these topics, the first week of the course will introduce the nonverbal and single language literature in order to arrive at the key concepts for each fundamental principle. The following week will then take the concepts derived from the non-bilingual literature and apply them to the acquisition of two languages. The final week will involve a discussion of how each of the factors work together across time. It will consider computer simulations of bilingualism as well as a novel conceptual model of bilingual brain representation. This model proposes that bilingualism like other skills emerges from a set of different processing mechanisms that are layered over time. The implications of this model for the understanding of language learning in both adults and children will be discussed.

Suggested Readings:
The Bilingual Brain