Second language word learning through repetition and imitation: Functional networks as a function of learning phase and language distance

Ladan Ghazi-Saidi, Ana Ines Ansaldo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Introduction and Aim: Repetition and imitation are among the oldest second language (L2) teaching approaches and are frequently used in the context of L2 learning and language therapy, despite some heavy criticism. Current neuroimaging techniques allow the neural mechanisms underlying repetition and imitation to be examined. This fMRI study examines the influence of verbal repetition and imitation on network configuration. Integration changes within and between the cognitive control and language networks were studied, in a pair of linguistically close languages (Spanish and French), and compared to our previous work on a distant language pair (Ghazi-Saidi et al., 2013). Methods: Twelve healthy native Spanish-speaking (L1) adults, and 12 healthy native Persian-speaking adults learned 130 new French (L2) words, through a computerized audiovisual repetition and imitation program. The program presented colored photos of objects. Participants were instructed to look at each photo and pronounce its name as closely as possible to the native template (imitate). Repetition was encouraged as many times as necessary to learn the object’s name; phonological cues were provided if necessary. Participants practiced for 15 min, over 30 days, and were tested while naming the same items during fMRI scanning, at week 1 (shallow learning phase) and week 4 (consolidation phase) of training. To compare this set of data with our previous work on Persian speakers, a similar data analysis plan including accuracy rates (AR), response times (RT), and functional integration values for the language and cognitive control network at each measure point was included, with further L1-L2 direct comparisons across the two populations. Results and Discussion: The evidence shows that learning L2 words through repetition induces neuroplasticity at the network level. Specifically, L2 word learners showed increased network integration after 3 weeks of training, with both close and distant language pairs. Moreover, higher network integration was observed in the learners with the close language pair, suggesting that repetition effects on network configuration vary as a function of task complexity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number463
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - Sep 28 2017


  • Functional connectivity
  • L2 word learning
  • Language and cognitive control
  • Networks
  • Novelty
  • Salience
  • Task complexity
  • Verbal repetition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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