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Linguistic immersion and structural effects on the bilingual brain: a longitudinal study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2018

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, UK
School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, UK UiT the Arctic University of Norway
School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, UK
Address for correspondence: Christos Pliatsikas, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, RG6 6AL,


Learning and using additional languages can result in structural changes in the brain. However, the time course of these changes, as well as the factors the predict them, are still not well understood. In this longitudinal study we test the effects of bilingual immersion on brain structure of adult sequential bilinguals not undergoing any language training, who were scanned twice, three years apart. We observed significant increases in grey matter volume in the lower left cerebellum, mean white matter diffusivity in the frontal cortex, and reshaping of the left caudate nucleus and amygdala and bilateral hippocampus. Moreover, both prior length of immersion and L2 age of acquisition were significant predictors of volumetric change in the cerebellum. Taken together, these results indicate that bilingualism-induced neurological changes continue to take place across the lifespan and are strongly related to the quantity and quality of bilingual immersion, even in highly-immersed adult bilingual populations.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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*This research was supported by a Research and Impact fund awarded by Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM), University of Reading, as well as by the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics (CINN) at the University of Reading. We also gratefully acknowledge the reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions to the manuscript. Finally, we thank Wafa Islam for assistance with the study, and our participants.


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