Brain potential and functional MRI evidence for how to handle two languages with one brain

Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells, Michael Rotte, Hans Jochen Helnze, Tömme Nösseit, Thomas F. Münte*

*Corresponding author for this work
179 Citations (Scopus)


Bilingual individuals need effective mechanisms to prevent interference from one language while processing material in the other. Here we show, using event-related brain potentials and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that words from the nontarget language are rejected at an early stage before semantic analysis in bilinguals. Bilingual Spanish/Catalan and monolingual Spanish subjects were instructed to press a button when presented with words in one language, while ignoring words in the other language and pseudowords. The brain potentials of bilingual subjects in response to words of the non-target language were not sensitive to word frequency, indicating that the meaning of non-target words was not accessed in bilinguals. The fMRI activation patterns of bilinguals included a number of areas previously implicated in phonological and pseudoword processing, suggesting that bilinguals use an indirect phonological access route to the lexicon of the target language to avoid interference.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number6875
Pages (from-to)1026-1029
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - 28.02.2002

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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