New paper: second language learners show same brain responses to prosody as native speakers

Is there a “critical period” early in life for learning a second language? It has often been claimed that you need to learn a second language very early in life in order to become as proficient as a native speaker. However, in a new piece of research, Bertram Opitz and colleagues have demonstrated that people learning a second language later on in life show similar event-related potential brainwave patterns as those of native speakers when they have to use prosody – tone of voice – to help them understand ambiguous sentences in their second language. This research adds to the growing body of evidence challenging the ‘Critical Period Hypothesis’ by demonstrating that even late second language learners can display native-like performance and brain activation patterns.


Nickels S, Opitz B, Steinhauer K. (2013). ERPs show that classroom-instructed late second language learners rely on the same prosodic cues in syntactic parsing as native speakers. Neuroscience Letters 557, 107–111.