How does language background influence the neural correlates of visual word recognition in children? To address this question, we used an ERP lexical decision task to examine first-language (L1) and second-language (L2) visual word processing in monolingual and bilingual school-aged children and young adults (n = 123). In particular, we focused on the effects of word frequency (an index of lexical accessibility) on RTs and the N400 ERP component. Behaviorally, we found larger L1 versus L2 word frequency effects among bilingual children, driven by faster and more accurate responses to higher-frequency words (no other language or age group differences were observed). Neurophysiologically, we found larger L1 word frequency effects in bilinguals versus monolinguals (across both age groups), reflected in more negative ERP amplitudes to lower-frequency words. However, the bilingual groups processed L1 and L2 words similarly, despite lower levels of subjective and objective L2 proficiency. Taken together, our findings suggest that divided L1 experience (but not L2 experience) influences the neural correlates of visual word recognition across childhood and adulthood.

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