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J Neurosci. 2012 Nov 21;32(47):16597-601. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1996-12.2012.

An effect of bilingualism on the auditory cortex.

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Speech Acquisition and Perception Group, Center for Brain and Cognition, Department of Technology, Pompeu Fabra University, 08018 Barcelona, Spain.


Two studies (Golestani et al., 2007; Wong et al., 2008) have reported a positive correlation between the ability to perceive foreign speech sounds and the volume of Heschl's gyrus (HG), the structure that houses the auditory cortex. More precisely, participants with larger left Heschl's gyri learned consonantal or tonal contrasts faster than those with smaller HG. These studies leave open the question of the impact of experience on HG volumes. In the current research, we investigated the effect of early language exposure on Heschl's gyrus by comparing Spanish-Catalan bilinguals who have been exposed to two languages since childhood, to a group of Spanish monolinguals matched in education, socio-economic status, and musical experience. Manual volumetric measurements of HG revealed that bilinguals have, on average, larger Heschl's gyri than monolinguals. This was corroborated, for the left Heschl's gyrus, by a voxel-based morphometry analysis showing larger gray matter volumes in bilinguals than in monolinguals. Since the bilinguals in this study were not a self-selected group, this observation provides a clear demonstration that learning a second language is a causal factor in the increased size of the auditory cortex.

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