Cognitive and linguistic predictors of bilingual single-word translation

Peiyao Chen*, Sayuri Hayakawa, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


One of the advantages of being bilingual is the ability to translate from one language to the other. From language learners to professional interpreters, many different types of bilinguals engage in translation in their daily lives. How successful they are, however, depends on a wide range of factors. The current study aimed to identify the cognitive and linguistic variables that predict how quickly and accurately bilinguals are able to translate single words. Eighteen Chinese–English bilinguals listened to words in their second language (L2 English) and verbally translated them into their native tongue (L1 Chinese). We observed that translation performance was predicted by factors related to language background, such as second language competence and language exposure, as well as domain-general cognitive abilities, such as inhibitory control. Translation performance was additionally influenced by features of the source language, such as word frequency, neighborhood density, and bi-gram/bi-phone probability. By examining factors relating to language experience, cognitive ability, and linguistic input, we shed light on the dynamic interaction that is required among multiple variables for successful translation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-164
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Cultural Cognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Bilingualism
  • Cognitive ability
  • Proficiency
  • Single word translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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