Lay summary
Aims: Learning to speak and read foreign languages is increasingly important in school, but the outcome varies strongly between children. Some are particularly prone to becoming struggling language learners, such as children with dyslexia or possibly boys with an immigrant background. Taking an educational neuroscience approach, this project investigates how neural mechanisms are involved in children's foreign language learning and determines the neural basis of individual differences by using EEG-based event-related brain potentials (ERPs). The central hypothesis is that foreign language learning and associated neural processes are influenced by biological disposition and previous language experience, but differently in different risk groups. The working hypotheses propose that gender and socio-economic status affect high-level language measures, whereas dyslexia affects more basic levels of language processing (1). In contrast, bilingual children are not expected to show behavioral disadvantages in foreign language learning, but to show deviant speech processing at the neural level. Finally, use of the neural measures recorded initially is expected to predict success of subsequent learning English in school, and to improve the prediction based on behavioral and background measures alone (2).Context and impact:The project bridges the traditionally disparate areas of neuroscience and education and applies a powerful longitudinal design along with well-validated behavioural and neural measures to an important social topic. The proposed research is significant because it is expected to help identify children at risk for poor outcome in foreign language learning and to contribute to the understanding of neural mechanisms involved in foreign language learning, particularly those that underlie individual differences. This may also help for developing training programs in the future that target risk groups specifically.Methods: A mobile EEG system allows recordings also in schools. Three groups of children will be studied in a longitudinal design before and after one year of English learning in 2nd grade: Non-dyslexic monolingual children, dyslexic monolingual children, and non-dyslexic bilingual children. Behavioral measures of auditory and visual language processing will be complemented with ERP indices of low and high level language processing. 1) Maurer, et al. (2007). Brain, 130, 3200-3210.2) Maurer, et al. (2009). Biological Psychiatry, 66, 341-348.