This longitudinal study tracked the neuro-cognitive changes associated with second language (L2) grammar learning in adults in order to investigate how L2 processing is shaped by a learner’s first language (L1) background and L2 proficiency. Previous studies using event-related potentials (ERPs) have argued that late L2 learners cannot elicit a P600 in response to L2 grammatical structures that do not exist in the L1 or that are different in the L1 and L2. We tested whether the neuro-cognitive processes underlying this component become available after intensive L2 instruction. Korean- and Chinese late-L2-learners of English were tested at the beginning and end of a 9-week intensive English-L2 course. ERPs were recorded while participants read English sentences containing violations of regular past tense (a grammatical structure that operates differently in Korean and does not exist in Chinese). Whereas no P600 effects were present at the start of instruction, by the end of instruction, significant P600s were observed for both L1 groups. Latency differences in the P600 exhibited by Chinese and Korean speakers may be attributed to differences in L1–L2 reading strategies. Across all participants, larger P600 effects at session 2 were associated with: 1) higher levels of behavioural performance on an online grammaticality judgment task; and 2) with correct, rather than incorrect, behavioural responses. These findings suggest that the neuro-cognitive processes underlying the P600 (e.g., “grammaticalization”) are modulated by individual levels of L2 behavioural performance and learning.
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Date Published: 26-December-2012
Author(s): White E., Genesee F., Steinhauer K.