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Brain Activity During Second Language Processing (ERP)

  1. D. J. Davidson

Published Online: 5 NOV 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0106

The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics

How to Cite

Davidson, D. J. 2012. Brain Activity During Second Language Processing (ERP). The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 NOV 2012


The electroencephalogram (EEG) offers a unique view of second language (L2) processing because it is one of the few noninvasive techniques available within cognitive neuroscience to directly examine brain function during key events that take place during language comprehension. An EEG recording is a record of large-scale electrical activity of the brain over time, usually recorded with an electrode attached to the skin on the scalp. Primarily because it offers good time resolution, and because it is somewhat better suited to receptive language processing rather than production, researchers have used EEG to address questions about the functional organization of second language (L2) comprehension and learning. The time resolution of EEG enables it to capture the rapidly changing electrical response to individual words, morphemes, or speech sounds. Because of this, experiments are often conducted to examine first and/or second language performance using tasks that require listeners (or readers) to comprehend relatively short-duration material such as syllables, words, or sentences. The average response is then used, for example, to better understand when or how L1 and L2 language processing differ in the first few moments after the onset of a word, and also how these responses change over time during learning.


  • neurolinguistics;
  • psycholinguistics;
  • second language acquisition;
  • multilingualism