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An official SNL satellite symposium
A lifelong perspective


This satellite symposium reflects on language learning across the lifespan and how our experience with language and multiple language learning informs questions of brain plasticity and organisation. Our keynote speakers explore the fundamental principles of developing language from a bilingual perspective and implications for brain organisation across the life span.

In addition to featuring several experts in the field of bilingualism and brain plasticity, the symposium will feature short oral presentations. The deadline to submit an abstract is April 18th. If you would like to be considered as a presenter, please submit your abstract. Please click on the link for registration and for abstract submission. 


Albert Costa, Ph. D.

Associate Professor, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelone, Spain

Research Professor, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), Center for Brain and Cognition

   Title: How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?

Nina Kraus, Ph. D.

Hugh Knowles Professor, Communication Sciences; Neurobiology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory

                  Title: Hearing in Noise in the Bilingual,  Musician, and Concussed-Athlete Brain 

Monika Molnar, Ph. D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Speech-Language Pathology,

University of Toronto, Canada

   Title: Learning linguistic regularities in a bilingual environment during the first two years of life

  Denise Klein, Ph. D.

  Director, Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University

  Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Montreal Neurological Institute

Language experience as a window into brain plasticity and organization









Welcome/Introductory remarks



Keynote lecture

Monika Molnar, Department of Speech-Language Pathology, University of Toronto

Learning linguistic regularities in a bilingual environment during the first two years of life

Abstract. In this talk, I will highlight research on bilingual acquisition during the first two years of life. I will particularly focus on the idea of whether infants from monolingual vs. bilingual environments distribute their cognitive resources (e.g., attention, as reflected by behavioral and neural/physiological correlates) differently, when it comes to processing novel vs. familiar linguistic regularities. When novel and familiar linguistic information are contrasted within the same experimental task, young infants from monolingual backgrounds tend to allocate more attention (e.g., as measured by the duration of sustained attention) toward the familiar linguistic information, while young bilingual infants exhibit greater attention toward the unfamiliar linguistic events. I will discuss whether these differences observed between the two populations can be considered as two different types of cognitive adaptations to monolingual vs. bilingual learning environments.



Keynote lecture

Denise Klein, Director, Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University

Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Montreal Neurological Institute

Language experience as a window into brain plasticity and organization

Abstract. How does our experience with language impact human brain organization? In this presentation, I will focus on research that we have conducted spanning three decades in which we combined behavioral methods with functional neuroimaging (PET and fMRI) under different language learning scenarios, to investigate how neural recruitment is influenced by the age of acquisition, proficiency in the language, and the distinctive characteristics of languages. I will discuss the use of anatomical techniques such as voxel-based morphometry-VBM, cortical thickness measures, diffusion tensor tractography to enhance our understanding of the critical-period phenomena and neural plasticity in the human brain. The program of research addresses the extent to which the human brain has the capacity to change as a result of learning. Here, we specifically investigate the extent to which the neural patterns are fixed and the extent to which the patterns can be altered later in life. The results of these studies reveal the neural underpinnings of human brain development in relation to the age of language exposure, and they suggest periods when learning language are most optimal in early life.


 10:45  Coffee break  Tessier


Keynote lecture

Albert Costa, Center for Brain and Cognition, Universitat Pompeu Fabra & ICREA

How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?

Abstract. In this talk, I will review some of the consequences that the bilingual experience has on the linguistic and cognitive development of the individual. I will pay special attention to the concept of bilingual language control and its neural basis. I will discuss data from various sources, ranging from behavioral studies with both cognitively spared and impaired individuals to studies on brain imaging. Finally, I will briefly present data regarding how the linguistic context in which individuals are placed (native vs. foreign) may affect people’s decisions and revealed preferences.



Lunch onsite



Oral presentation

Arturo E. Hernandez, Department of Psychology, University of Houston

Genetics, plasticity and cognitive control: A Neuroemergentist approach

Abstract. Do bilinguals have better cognitive control or do those with better cognitive control become better bilinguals? Whereas recent work in the literature has focused on the debate of whether bilingual possess some advantage over monolinguals, there has been much less attention paid to the factors that might mediate these differences. In the present talk, work that has begun to look at the potential role of genetics and development in bilinguals will be presented. A series of studies investigating the role of genes involved in striatal and cortical dopamine reveals complex interactions between language experience and brain activity associated with cognitive control and language proficiency tasks. In addition, work with child bilinguals has also found associations between structural and functional brain measures and degree of language proficiency in a second language. Taken together these results are consistent with a complex relationship between a particular language environment and individual differences. Results will be discussed with respect to a Neuroemergentist view which proposes a more dynamic, developmentally oriented view of bilingualism.



Oral presentation

Evelyne Mercure, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London

Co-authors: Elena Kushnerenko, Laura Goldberg, Harriet Bowden-Howl, Kimberley Coulson, Mark H. Johnson, and Mairead MacSweeney

Language experience influences audiovisual speech integration in unimodal and bimodal bilingual infants

Abstract. Infants as young as two months can integrate audio and visual aspects of speech articulation. A shift of attention from the eyes towards the mouth of talking faces occurs around 6 months of age in monolingual infants. However, it is unknown whether this pattern of attention during audiovisual speech processing is influenced by speech and language experience in infancy. The present study investigated this question by analysing audiovisual speech processing in three groups of 4-to-8-month-old infants who differed in their language experience: 28 monolinguals, 22 unimodal bilinguals (infants exposed to two or more spoken languages) and 23 bimodal bilinguals (hearing infants with Deaf mothers). Eye-tracking was used to study patterns of face scanning while infants were viewing faces articulating syllables with congruent, incongruent and silent auditory tracks. Monolinguals and unimodal bilinguals increased their attention to the mouth of talking faces between 4 and 8 months, while bimodal bilinguals did not show any age difference in their scanning patterns. Moreover, older (6.6 to 8 months), but not younger monolinguals (4 to 6.5 months), showed increased visual attention to the mouth of faces articulating audiovisually incongruent than congruent faces, indicating surprise or novelty. In contrast, no audiovisual congruency effect was found in unimodal or bimodal bilinguals. Results suggest that speech and language experience influences audiovisual integration in infancy. Specifically, reduced or more variable experience of audiovisual speech from the primary caregiver may lead to less sensitivity to the integration of audio and visual cues of speech articulation.



Oral presentation

Laura Batterink, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario

Co-authors: Dawoon Choi, Alexis Black, Ken A. Paller, and Janet F. Werker

Tracking the time course of statistical learning in pre-lingual infants: Online evidence from neural entrainment

Abstract. Both linguistic processing and implicit learning can be tracked via endogenous brain rhythms that synchronize to exogenous stimuli (Ding et al., 2016; Batterink and Paller, 2017). Statistical learning (SL) refers to the ability to detect structure in the environment and is one of the mechanisms by which infants may learn to segment words from a continuous stream of speech sounds (Saffran, Aslin, & Newport, 1996). Although statistical learning in infants has been demonstrated behaviourally through offline looking-time measures, these measures are influenced by memory retrieval processes and other peripheral factors, and are unable to track learning directly. To begin to bridge this gap, we used electroencephalography (EEG) to track SL in 6-month-old infants. Twenty-four infants (12 female) were exposed to a continuous stream of four repeating tri-syllabic nonsense words. SL was assessed by comparing neural entrainment at the frequency of the hidden embedded words relative to that of individual syllables. Importantly, this EEG neural entrainment measure is obtained during rather than after exposure to structured input, reveals the time course of learning, and tracks learning directly. Consistent with prior work in adults (Batterink & Paller, 2017), infants’ neural entrainment increased at the word level and decreased at the syllabic level as a function of increasing exposure, indicating that entrainment is a viable means of tracking SL in infants. Interestingly, the progression of neural entrainment in infants reached a plateau more quickly than in adults. Whereas infants and adults showed similar learning progressions during early phases of the exposure period (first ~90 s), only adults continued to exhibit further increases in word-level entrainment with additional exposure. These results suggest a briefer sampling period of environmental statistics in infant learners, which may arise from constraints on attention. This briefer environmental sampling in infants may represent an adaptive mechanism that prevents the over specification of linguistic representations. More generally, monitoring EEG entrainment in infants provides a promising new avenue to assess SL online.



Oral presentation

Shanna Kousaie, Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, McGill University and Montreal Neurological Institute

Co-authors: Shari Baum, Natalie A. Phillips, Vincent Gracco, Debra Titone, Jen-Kai Chen, Xiaoqian J. Chai, and Denise Klein

Evidence from multi-modal neuroimaging for the importance of bilingual language experience on brain structure and function

Abstract. Bilingual compared to monolingual language experience has been associated with differences in behaviour, brain structure and brain function. Most research to date focusses on differences between monolinguals and bilinguals, overlooking differences in bilingual language experiences. In the current investigation, we used multi-modal brain imaging in combination with behavioural measures to demonstrate how the timing of second language (L2) learning impacts brain structure, resting-state functional connectivity, and task-based brain activity. Fifty-one bilingual participants who varied with respect to when they learned their L2 underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a subset also completed functional MRI (resting-state and task-based). Structurally, we found associations between grey matter volume in brain regions previously associated with cognitive control, auditory and phonological processing, and behavioural measures of cognitive control, language experience and attained L2 proficiency. Furthermore, differences in grey matter volume in some of these regions differed as a function of when the second language was learned. Functionally, our results show that simultaneous compared to sequential learning of two languages is associated with more optimal intrinsic brain connectivity in relation to cognitive control, with simultaneous learners demonstrating superior cognitive control and stronger resting state anti-correlations between the default mode and task-positive networks. Simultaneous learners also showed differential neural recruitment in response to speech in a non-native language under challenging listening conditions compared to sequential learners. These findings provide converging evidence for the importance of the bilingual language experience on brain plasticity.



Oral presentation

Chantel S. Prat, Department of Psychology, University of Washington

Co-author: Brianna L. Yamasaki

Resting-state qEEG reveals intrinsic network differences between monolingual and bilingual adults

Abstract. Considerable research has demonstrated that bilingual language experience shapes brain structure and function (Li et al., 2014). A small subset of these findings have reported intrinsic connectivity differences between monolinguals and bilinguals using resting-state fMRI (e.g., Grady et al., 2015; Berken et al., 2016). The current study extends this work by comparing patterns of intrinsic connectivity in monolingual and bilingual adults over a more refined timescale using resting-state qEEG acquired from 90 monolinguals and 103 bilinguals. Mean power in the theta (4-7.5Hz), alpha (8-12.5Hz), beta (13-29.5Hz), and gamma (30-40Hz) bands were calculated for each participant across 5 networks (left and right fronto-temporal, left and right postserior, and medial frontal) known to be involved in language learning processes. Spectral coherence within and between networks was also calculated. Power and coherence for monolinguals and bilinguals were compared using independent sample t-tests, with FDR corrections applied. Results revealed that bilingual individuals had lower power in the theta frequency range recorded over the left fronto-temporal network, t(179) = 3.54, p = .0001. Such reduced theta power at rest has been associated with improvements in cognitive functioning (Klimesch, 1999). In addition, consistent with neuroimaging research, bilinguals showed higher coherence across all frequency bands between left fronto-temporal and posterior networks t(151.76) = -3.80, p < .001, and between right fronto-temporal and posterior networks t(185.29) = -2.89, p = .005, which were largely driven by alpha coherence. Future directions involve relating relate resting-state indices within bilinguals to language experience variables and measures of executive attention.



Oral presentation

Claudia Peñaloza, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, Boston University

Co-authors: Uli Grasemann, Maria Dekhtyar, Risto Miikkulainen, Swathi Kiran

A computational approach to healthy bilingual naming and naming impairment in aphasia

Abstract. The DISCERN computational model offers a potential opportunity to systematically examine lexical access in healthy bilinguals and BAA. The DISCERN model consists of three interconnected self-organizing maps: one semantic and two phonological maps for each language respectively. Simulations were conducted in two steps. First, we used an evolutionary algorithm to identify the best-fit training schedule (i.e., number of words trained per simulated year, learning rate and neighborhood size, age, age of acquisition and language exposure) that would allow each individual model to simulate naming performance (i.e., Boston Naming test-BNT and a 60-item naming screener) in 21 healthy Spanish-English bilinguals and 2 English and Spanish monolinguals. Second, to simulate naming impairment in 22 Spanish-English BAA, we combined their premorbid data (i.e., age, AoA and language exposure) and the best-fit training schedule of the healthy bilinguals to generate individual pre-stroke naming models. Next, these models were systematically lesioned by adding varying levels of noise to the semantic map to match the BAA post-stroke semantic impairment (i.e., Pyramid and Palm Trees). This consequently simulated naming performance (i.e., BNT scores). The best-fit training schedule allowed to adequately simulate naming in the healthy bilinguals, explaining 78% of the variance in their naming scores. Also, damage to the semantic map of the post-stroke models lead to a reasonable simulation of naming impairment in both languages for each BAA. These individual models will be the basis for treatment simulations in future research.



Oral presentation

Christos Pliatsikas, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading

Understanding structural plasticity in the multilingual brain: The Dynamic Restructuring Hypothesis

Abstract. Research on the effects of multilingualism on the structure of the brain has so far yielded variable patterns. Although it cannot be disputed that learning and using additional languages restructures both grey and white matter in the brain, the reported effects vary considerably, with both increases and reductions in grey matter volume and white matter diffusivity having been reported. This paper reviews the available evidence from the perspective of experience-based neuroplasticity and links these findings to patterns from other domains of learning. Critically, theoretical suggestions about the biological explanation and time course of experience-related volume expansion and renormalisation of grey matter, as well as of fluctuations in white matter diffusivity, are discussed. Within this framework, multilingualism-induced neuroplasticity is examined on the basis of proxies of language experience such as immersion, age of acquisition and amount of usage and switching. Evidence from simultaneous and sequential bilinguals, multilinguals, interpreters, children, dementia patients and healthy older adults is reviewed and evaluated based on their reported or assumed language experiences. The paper concludes with a theoretical suggestion reconciling the available findings to theories on the biological basis of experience-based neuroplasticity: the Dynamic Restructuring Hypothesis (DRH). The predictions of the DRH are evaluated against current models on the neurological basis of language control in bilinguals (Abutalebi & Green, 2016; Anderson et al., 2017). Suggestions for future research are also discussed, in particular longitudinal studies that should be able to capture the full pattern of multilingualism-related neuroplasticity.



Coffee break



Keynote lecture

Nina KrausCommunication Sciences; Neurobiology, 

Northwestern University

Co-author: Jennifer Krizman

Hearing in noise in the bilingual, musician, and concussed-athlete brain

Abstract. Hearing in noise is challenging for everyone—an inability to follow a conversation in a noisy environment is a complaint common in a wide range of people. Individuals with honed sensory processing and cognitive skills, such as attention and executive function, are generally better at listening in noise. Musicians, for example, excel at speech in noise because music making hones the sensory and cognitive skills important for perceiving speech in a noisy environment. Though the experience of communicating in two languages also sharpens these skills, bilinguals, appear to be an exception, as bilinguals are poorer than monolinguals at understanding speech in noise. This difficulty is likely due to competition from multiple lexicons, since bilinguals can utilize their cognitive and sensory enhancements to excel at non-linguistic listening in noise. Because making sense of sound is one of the most complex tasks our brains perform, concussion impairs sound processing especially in noise. Here, I will discuss findings that have emerged about how the brain listens in noise by using a biological measure, the frequency following response. These findings have extended our understanding of auditory processing underlying listening in noise. Hearing speech in noise relies on the integration of linguistic, cognitive and sensorimotor processing. It can be impacted by deficits and strengths in one area. Notably, bilinguals, musicians and concussed athletes each demonstrate a unique neural signature of sound processing in the brain.





August 15th, 2018

 8h30 to 16h

Domaine Cataraqui

2141, chemin Saint-Louis, Quebec City,

QC., G1T 1 P9


Registration is free but mandatory given a limited space; it includes lunch on site.

Fill the section "Abstract" if you want to submit an abstract for a short presentation.

The Satellite Symposium is presented by

Organizing Committee

  Denise Klein, Ph.D.
  Director, Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM)
  Associate Professor, Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University
  Cognitive Neuroscience Group, Montreal Neurological Institute

  Pascale Tremblay, Ph.D.
  Co-director, Consortium d’imagerie en Neurosciences et santé mentale de Québec (CINQ)
  Associate professor, Faculté de Médecine, Département de réadaptation, Université Laval
  Researcher, Centre de recherche CERVO

  Vincent L. Gracco, Ph.D.
  Senior Scientist
  Vice President of Scientific Operations
  Haskins Laboratories
  New Haven, CT

Centre intégré en neuroimagerie et neurostimulation de Québec

Centre de recherche CERVO, 2601, chemin de la Canardière,       

bureau S-2119, Québec (Qc) G1J 2G3

418-663-5000 poste 8703



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