Journal List > J Korean Soc Radiol > v.80(6) > 1138856

Lee, Baek, Kim, Park, Jeong, Baek, and Yoon: Neural Mechanism of Second Language Processing in Korean-English Bilingual Children



To evaluate the neural mechanism of second language processing in Korean-English bilingual children using functional MRI (fMRI).

Materials and Methods

The study was conducted on 20 Korean elementary school children who were learning English as a foreign language. fMRI was performed during short-passage comprehension tasks in Korean and English languages. We analyzed which brain areas were activated according to the language, English proficiency, and task difficulty.


Higher activities were observed in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area, precentral gyrus, left basal ganglia, and left temporoparietal and occipital lobes during English comprehension than during Korean comprehension. The low English proficiency group showed higher activities than the high English proficiency group in the frontotemporal cortex, including the prefrontal cortex. Higher activities were observed in the right inferior frontal gyrus and right temporoparietal lobe during the English comprehension task of intermediate difficulty compared to that of low difficulty. However, the brain activities significantly decreased while performing a high-difficulty English task.


Brain activities significantly increased during English comprehension in the lower English proficiency group while performing an intermediate-difficulty task. However, brain activation decreased when the task difficulty exceeded the moderate comprehension level. These results suggest that a proper level of education is important to learn a second language.

Figures and Tables

Fig. 1

Design paradigm for the visual stimulation of the passage comprehension task.

Fig. 2

Brain activation map for a direct comparison between the high learning level group (A, C) and the low learning level group (B, D) in the English (A, B) and Korean (C, D) tasks with a low level of difficulty.

Fig. 3

Brain activation map for a direct comparison between the high learning level group (A, C) and the low learning level group (B, D) in the English (A, B) and Korean (C, D) tasks with an intermediate level of difficulty.

Fig. 4

Brain activation map for a direct comparison between the high learning level group (A, C) and the low learning level group (B, D) in the English (A, B) and Korean (C, D) tasks with a high level of difficulty.

Fig. 5

Predominant cortical activation areas associated with English comprehension compared to that with Korean comprehension.

Fig. 6

Brain areas of greater activation in the low learning level group compared to that in the high learning level group for the English passage comprehension tasks with low (A) and intermediate (B) levels of difficulty.

RAO = right anterior oblique
Fig. 7

Brain areas of greater activation during the English task with an intermediate level of difficulty compared to that with a low level of difficulty.

Table 1

Summary of Participants

Table 2

The Short Passage Comprehension Task Used in the Experiment


R.T = reaction time

Table 3

Brain Regions with Predominant Activity during English Comprehension Compared to that during Korean Comprehension


MNI = Montreal Neurological Institute

Table 4

Brain Regions with Predominant Activity in the Low LL Group Compared to that in the High LL Group during the English Passage Comprehension Task with Low and Intermediate Levels of Difficulty


LL = learning level, MNI = Montreal Neurological Institute

Table 5

Brain Regions with Predominant Activity during the English Comprehension Task with an Intermediate Level of Difficulty Compared to that with a Low Level of Difficulty


MNI = Montreal Neurological Institute


This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (NRF-2011-0013870).


Author Contributions

  • Conceptualization, Y.W., B.S., J.G.W.

  • data curation, Y.W., B.S., L.Y.Y.

  • formal analysis, Y.W., J.G.W., L.Y.Y.

  • funding acquisition, Y.W.

  • investigation, L.Y.Y., B.B.H., K.S.K., P.I.

  • methodology, L.Y.Y., B.B.H., K.S.K.

  • project administration, Y.W., B.S.

  • resources, Y.W.

  • supervision, Y.W.

  • visualization, L.Y.Y., B.B.H., K.S.K., P.I., J.G.W.

  • writing—original draft, L.Y.Y.

  • writing—review & editing, Y.W., B.S., P.I., J.G.W.

Conflicts of Interest The authors have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Yun Young Lee

Byung Hyun Baek

Seul Kee Kim

Il-woo Park

Gwang Woo Jeong

Seunghyun Baek

Woong Yoon

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