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Visiting the eyetracker lab

In this video Dr. Hanneke Loerts explains an eye tracker experiment and provides an overview of research on multilingualism and cognition.
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[SPEAKING DUTCH ON TV]
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Here, you see an eye tracking experiment. Eye tracking can be used to study attention allocation. This study mainly focuses on eye fixations as they reflect what it is in the visual scene that a viewer is looking at. In this particular experiment, participants are asked to look at a television programme that contains scenes in different languages. To make the information comprehensible to the viewer, Dutch subtitles are added in the bottom of the screen, which consist of a native translation of the speech in the foreign language soundtrack. The use of subtitles gives us the opportunity to learn foreign languages, but the cognitive load of viewing these television shows might be relatively high.
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You need to listen to speech in a foreign language, read a written translation in your native language, and also try to process information from the visual scene. One aim of the present experiment was to examine how people read subtitles, but also whether reading subtitles might distract attention from the scene or the soundtrack. Fortunately, and in line with other research, subtitles appear to be cognitively effective. Subtitles do not distract the viewer’s attention, and scenes with subtitles might even be processed and remembered better than scenes that do not contain subtitles.
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A bi- and multilingual’s languages are constantly active, at least to a certain degree. This means that we have to juggle our languages. We just have to inhibit one language while activating the other. And the constant training of this has thought to lead to a so-called bilingual advantage. The famous Canadian professor Ellen Bialystok has studied this phenomenon extensively, and her research mainly focuses on the cognitive effects of bilingualism across the lifespan.
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Because of the constant juggling and balancing of languages, bilinguals use and practise executive functions almost every time they speak or listen. And because of this, they have been reported to be better at performing tasks that require conflict management, such as the Stroop task. They are often also better in switching between tasks. This bilingual advantage appears to be strongest in children and adults, but it has been found across the lifespan. It should be noted, however, that there is some debate about the bilingual advantage, as it has not consistently been found in all situations and for all bilinguals. The mixed results may be caused by the differences in the population studied.
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An often-heard question is whether multilingualism does something to our brains. From a psycho- and neuro-linguistic point of view, multilingualism definitely has several cognitive and neuro-anatomical benefits. Bi- and potentially also multilingualism may keep our cognitive system healthy and allows to compensate for damage arising during ageing. All our brains will shrink, but bilinguals have been shown to cope better with the remaining intact brain for longer periods of time than monolinguals– the so-called cognitive reserve. In other words, bilinguals are able to recruit different brain networks or use different cognitive strategies to perform certain tasks. Related to this, bilingualism has been shown to be a factor that delays the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease with four to five years.
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The good news is that the advantages in mental flexibility, such as better performance on the Stroop task, and the advantages of better coping with brain damage has also been reported for people who learn a language later in childhood and even later during the lifespan. What is important in this respect is not the age at which you start learning another language, but the way in which you use the language. Many researchers suggest that only daily practice in juggling your languages will lead to better executive functioning abilities.

In this video Dr. Hanneke Loerts explains an eye tracker experiment and provides an overview of research on multilingualism and cognition.

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