26.03.2018 change 26.03.2018

A bilingual brain living abroad

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

How does a bilingual brain work? Will you remember your native language until old age without everyday contact with it? The team led by Dr. Zofia Wodniecka-Chlipalska from the Jagiellonian University will investigate this problem. Scientists are looking for Polish citizens living in Great Britain for psycholinguistic research.

"Probably all of us who have spent some time abroad and used foreign language intensively, noticed that after some time it was harder to express ourselves in our native language. After some time in the context of a foreign language, we experience difficulties finding adequate words in our mother tongue, we often feel that we have the word we`re looking for on the tip of the tongue, but for unknown reasons we are unable to remember it" - says Dr. Wodniecka-Chlipalska, quoted in the release sent to PAP.

The project is financed by the National Science Centre. Dr. Wodniecka-Chlipalska and her group of researchers are now starting the study. It will be devoted to understanding the mental mechanism responsible for this type of "forgetting" the language.

Researchers want to understand the impact of the second language on the first, native one. They are also interested in the aspects of the first language that are subject to such impact very quickly and the ones that are more resistant to these influences. And finally - they want to find out to what extent the process is reversible: whether, for example, a short holiday in Poland will allow a person who speaks foreign language every day to return to their former proficiency in their native language.

According to the Institute of Psychology of the Jagiellonian University, the project will be carried out in Scotland, mainly in Edinburgh. Researchers will involve 25-55 years old Polish emigrants, who speak Polish and English every day. At least eighty people must participate in the project. Those willing to participate will find a registration form at polskinaemigracji.pl

Each of the two research sessions will take about 2.5 hours. One of the visits must coincide with a short stay in Poland (for example a holiday trip). In the course of the study, scientists will ask the participants to name objects in the pictures in Polish and English, read sentences and, for example, assess their grammatical correctness, listen to radio voice recordings and point at the mentioned objects, etc.

Researchers will measure the answer time and the level of correctness. They will also record the electrical activity of the brain and track eye movements. The combination of these three measurement methods will allow to observe even subtle differences in the mind and brain of people who use a language other than Polish on a daily basis in relation to the control group. The latter will be tested in Poland.

According to Dr. Wodniecka-Chlipalska, transport costs will be reimbursed and the participants will receive a small remuneration. There will also be a lottery with attractive prizes, as well as guaranteed participation in Polish events and workshops.

"Firstly, we will take the next step on the road to a better understanding of how the mind of a bilingual person works. Secondly, the study of mechanisms that enable bilingualism is one of the ways to understand the mind in general, and in particular the limits of its plasticity. Thirdly, our latest project will allow to gather knowledge that can become socially useful: with the number of migrants worldwide growing, we will better understand the problems they face every day" - describes Dr. Wodniecka-Chlipalska.

It is unclear whether the processes taking place in the brain of people using a different combination of languages than Polish and English will be the same. It is possible that when the languages are similar (for example, in case of Polish and Ukrainian), the language forgetting mechanism is different. This is another issue that researchers can address in the future.

PAP - Science in Poland

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