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Bilingual memory, to the extreme: Lexical processing in simultaneous interpreters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 April 2018

Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Departamento de Lingüística y Literatura, Facultad de Humanidades, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Santiago, Chile
Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina Universidad Autónoma del Caribe, Barranquilla, Colombia Center for Social and Cognitive Neuroscience (CSCN), School of Psychology, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Santiago de Chile, Chile Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Australian Research Council (ACR), Sydney, Australia
Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina Faculty of Education, National University of Cuyo (UNCuyo), Mendoza, Argentina
Address for correspondence: Adolfo M. García, Ph. D., Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience & CONICET, Pacheco de Melo 1860, C1126AAB, Buenos Aires,


This study assessed whether bilingual memory is susceptible to the extreme processing demands of professional simultaneous interpreters (PSIs). Seventeen PSIs and 17 non-interpreter bilinguals completed word production, lexical retrieval, and verbal fluency tasks. PSIs exhibited enhanced fluency in their two languages, and they were faster to translate words in both directions. However, no significant differences emerged in picture naming or word reading. This suggests that lexical enhancements in PSIs are confined to their specifically trained abilities (vocabulary search, interlingual reformulation), with no concomitant changes in other word-processing mechanisms. Importantly, these differences seem to reflect specifically linguistic effects, as both samples were matched for relevant executive skills. Moreover, only word translation performance correlated with the PSIs’ years of interpreting experience. Therefore, despite their tight cooperation, different subcomponents within bilingual memory seem characterized by independent, usage-driven flexibility.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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*This work was partially supported by grants from CONICET; CONICYT/FONDECYT Regular (1170010); Programa Interdisciplinario de Investigación Experimental en Comunicación y Cognición (PIIECC), Facultad de Humanidades, USACH; Proyecto Basal USACH USA1398_ME112214; FONDAP 15150012; and the INECO Foundation.

Micaela Santilli and Martina G. Vilas are both lead authors of this work, with equal contribution.

Supplementary Material can be found online at


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