Diversity and variation in language experiences, such as bilingualism, contribute to heterogeneity in children’s neural organization for language and brain development. To uncover sources of such heterogeneity in children’s neural language networks, the present study examined the effects of bilingual proficiency on children’s neural organization for language function. To do so, we took an innovative person-specific analytical approach to investigate young Chinese-English and Spanish-English bilingual learners of structurally distinct languages. Bilingual and English monolingual children (N = 152, M(SD)age = 7.71(1.32)) completed an English word recognition task during functional near-infrared spectroscopy neuroimaging, along with language and literacy tasks in each of their languages. Two key findings emerged. First, bilinguals’ heritage language proficiency (Chinese or Spanish) made a unique contribution to children’s language network density. Second, the findings reveal common and unique patterns in children’s patterns of task-related functional connectivity. Common across all participants were short-distance neural connections within left hemisphere regions associated with semantic processes (within middle temporal and frontal regions). Unique to more proficient language users were additional long-distance connections between frontal, temporal, and bilateral regions within the broader language network. The study informs neurodevelopmental theories of language by revealing the effects of heterogeneity in language proficiency and experiences on the structure and quality of emerging language neural networks in linguistically diverse learners.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Handling Editor: Marcela Peña Garay