Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fluent English speakers translate into Chinese automatically

Date:
June 15, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Over half the world's population speaks more than one language. But it's not clear how these languages interact in the brain. A new study finds that Chinese people who are fluent in English translate English words into Chinese automatically and quickly, without thinking about it.

Over half the world's population speaks more than one language. But it's not clear how these languages interact in the brain. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that Chinese people who are fluent in English translate English words into Chinese automatically and quickly, without thinking about it.

Like her research subjects, Taoli Zhang of the University of Nottingham is originally from China, but she lives in the UK and is fluent in English. She co wrote the new paper with her colleagues, Walter J.B. van Heuven and Kathy Conklin. She wanted to study how two different languages are stored in the bilingual brain. "If you read in English, you don't really require your knowledge of Chinese. Do you switch it off?" Earlier research in European languages found that both languages stayed active in the brain. But that work was in pairs of languages, like English and French or Spanish and Italian, have a lot of similarities in spelling and vocabulary. That's not true for English and Chinese.

The subjects in Zhang's experiments were all Chinese students at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. For the study, each person was shown pairs of words. The first word flashed on the computer screen so quickly that the person didn't realize they'd seen it. The second word appeared for longer; the person was supposed to hit a key indicating whether it was a real word as quickly as possible. This was just a test to see how quickly they were processing the word.

The trick was this: Although everything in the test was in English, in some cases, the two words actually had a connection -- but only if you know how they're written in Chinese. So, for example, the first word might be "thing," which is written 东西in Chinese, and the second might be "west," which is written 西in Chinese. The character for "west" appears in the word "thing," but these two words are totally unrelated in English.

Zhang found that, when two words shared characters in Chinese, participants processed the second word faster -- even though they had no conscious knowledge of having seen the first word in the pair. Even though these students are fluent in English, their brains still automatically translate what they see into Chinese. This suggests that knowledge of a first language automatically influences the processing of a second language, even when they are very different, unrelated languages.

"As long as I can speak English to you, why would you care what my brain is doing in terms of Chinese?" Zhang asks. In daily life, it doesn't matter; it's just good enough that she can talk to the people around her. But she says understanding the way languages are linked in the brain could someday help people learn second languages. "When people learn two languages, they automatically make the link between them. We would like to find out how the link between the two languages influences language processing."

The article is entitled, "Fast automatic translation and morphological decomposition in Chinese-English bilinguals."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Fluent English speakers translate into Chinese automatically." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110614144758.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, June 15). Fluent English speakers translate into Chinese automatically. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110614144758.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Fluent English speakers translate into Chinese automatically." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110614144758.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Chinese-English Bilinguals Are 'automatic' Translators

Aug. 2, 2011 New research into how the bilingual brain processes two very different languages has revealed that bilinguals' native language directly influences their comprehension of their second ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins