The Neural Processing of Second Language Comprehension Modulated by the Degree of Proficiency: A Listening Connected Speech fMRI Study

Isabelle Hesling*, Bixente Dilharreguy, Martine Bordessoules, Michèle Allard
INCIA, UMR-CNRS 5287, Université Victor Segalen, Bordeaux2, France

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* Address correspondence to this author at the INCIA, UMR-CNRS 5287, Université Victor Segalen, 146 rue Léo Saignat, 33076 Bordeaux, France; Tel: (33) 557574594; Fax: (33) 557574597; E-mail:


While the neural network encompassing the processing of the mother tongue (L1) is well defined and has revealed the existence of a bilateral ventral pathway and a left dorsal pathway in which 3 loops have been defined, the question of the processing of a second language (L2) is still a matter of debate. Among variables accounting for the discrepancies in results, the degree of L2 proficiency appears to be one of the main factors. The present study aimed at assessing both pathways in L2, making it possible to determine the degree of mastery of the different speech components (prosody, phonology, semantics and syntax) that are intrinsically embedded within connected speech and that vary according to the degree of proficiency using high degrees of prosodic information. Two groups of high and moderate proficiency in L2 performed an fMRI comprehension task in L1 and L2. The modifications in brain activity observed within the dorsal and the ventral pathways according to L2 proficiency suggest that different processes of L2 are supported by differences in the integrated activity within distributed networks that included the left STSp, the left Spt and the left pars triangularis.

Keywords: Bilingualism, connected speech perception, degree of proficiency, ventral and dorsal pathways, fMRI.