Neural processing of speech in children is influenced by extent of bilingual experience

Jennifer Krizman, Jessica Slater, Erika Skoe, Viorica Marian, Nina Kraus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Language experience fine-tunes how the auditory system processes sound. Bilinguals, relative to monolinguals, have more robust evoked responses to speech that manifest as stronger neural encoding of the fundamental frequency (F0) and greater across-trial consistency. However, it is unknown whether such enhancements increase with increasing second language experience. We predict that F0 amplitude and neural consistency scale with dual-language experience during childhood, such that more years of bilingual experience leads to more robust F0 encoding and greater neural consistency. To test this hypothesis, we recorded auditory brainstem responses to the synthesized syllables 'ba' and 'ga' in two groups of bilingual children who were matched for age at test (8.4 ± 0.67 years) but differed in their age of second language acquisition. One group learned English and Spanish simultaneously from birth (n= 13), while the second group learned the two languages sequentially (n= 15), spending on average their first four years as monolingual Spanish speakers. We find that simultaneous bilinguals have a larger F0 response to 'ba' and 'ga' and a more consistent response to 'ba' compared to sequential bilinguals and we demonstrate that these neural enhancements track with years of bilingual experience. These findings support the notion that bilingualism enhances subcortical auditory processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-53
Number of pages6
JournalNeuroscience Letters
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015


  • Auditory
  • Bilingual experience
  • Brainstem
  • Fundamental frequency
  • Neural consistency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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