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Front. Hum. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00062

Explicit Performance in Girls and Implicit Processing in Boys: A Simultaneous fNIRS-ERP Study on Second Language Syntactic Learning in Young Adolescents

 Lisa Sugiura1*, Masahiro Hata1, 2, Hiroko Matsuba-Kurita1, Minako Uga3, 4,  Daisuke Tsuzuki1,  Ippeita Dan4, Hiroko Hagiwara1 and  Fumitaka Homae1*
  • 1Department of Language Sciences, Graduate School of Humanities, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Japan
  • 2Global Centre for Advanced Research on Logic and Sensibility, Keio University, Japan
  • 3Department of Welfare and Psychology, Health Science University, Japan
  • 4Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University, Japan

Learning a second language (L2) proceeds with individual approaches to proficiency in the language. Individual differences including sex, as well as working memory (WM) function appear to have strong effects on behavioral performance and cortical responses in L2 processing. Thus, by considering sex and WM capacity, we examined neural responses during L2 sentence processing as a function of L2 proficiency in young adolescents. In behavioral tests, girls significantly outperformed boys in L2 tests assessing proficiency and grammatical knowledge, and in a reading span test (RST) assessing WM capacity. Girls, but not boys, showed significant correlations between L2 tests and RST scores. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and event-related potential (ERP) simultaneously, we measured cortical responses while participants listened to syntactically correct and incorrect sentences. ERP data revealed a grammaticality effect only in boys in the early time window (100-300 ms), implicated in phrase structure processing. In fNIRS data, while boys had significantly increased activation in the left prefrontal region implicated in syntactic processing, girls had increased activation in the posterior language-related region involved in phonology, semantics, and sentence processing with proficiency. Presumably, boys implicitly focused on rule-based syntactic processing, whereas girls made full use of linguistic knowledge and WM function. The present results provide important fundamental data for learning and teaching in L2 education.

Keywords: proficiency, sex differences, working memory, sentence, phrase structure, syntax, adaptive hemodynamic response function, reading span test

Received: 09 Aug 2017; Accepted: 05 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Nandini C. Singh, National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), India

Reviewed by:

Bhoomika Kar, Allahabad University, India
Gautier Durantin, The University of Queensland, Australia
Rahul Goel, University of Houston, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Sugiura, Hata, Matsuba-Kurita, Uga, Tsuzuki, Dan, Hagiwara and Homae. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
PhD. Lisa Sugiura, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Department of Language Sciences, Graduate School of Humanities, Hachioji, 192-0397, Tokyo, Japan, lsugiura@tmu.ac.jp
PhD. Fumitaka Homae, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Department of Language Sciences, Graduate School of Humanities, Hachioji, 192-0397, Tokyo, Japan, fhomae@tmu.ac.jp