Adult language learning after minimal exposure to an unknown natural language

M. Gullberg, L. Robert, C. Dimroth, K. Veroude, P. Indefrey

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Despite the literature on the role of input in adult second-language (L2) acquisition and on artificial and statistical language learning, surprisingly little is known about how adults break into a new language in the wild. This article reports on a series of behavioral and neuroimaging studies that examine what linguistic information adults can extract from naturalistic but controlled audiovisual input in an unknown and typologically distant L2 after minimal exposure (7-14 min) without instruction or training. We tested the stepwise development of segmental, phonotactic, and lexical knowledge in Dutch adults after minimal exposure to Mandarin Chinese and the role of item frequency, speech-associated gestures, and word length at the earliest stages of learning. In an exploratory neural connectivity study we further examined the neural correlates of word recognition in a new language, identifying brain regions whose connectivity was related to performance both before and after learning. While emphasizing the complexity of the learning task, the results suggest that the adult learning mechanism is more powerful than is normally assumed when faced with small amounts of complex, continuous audiovisual language input. © 2010 Language Learning Research Club, University of Michigan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-24
JournalLanguage Learning
Issue numberS2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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