In the midst of globalization, English is regarded as an international language, or Lingua Franca, but learning it as a second language (L2) remains still difficult to speakers of other languages. This is true especially for the speakers of languages distantly related to English such as Japanese. In this sense, exploring neural basis for translation between the first language (L1) and L2 is of great interest. There have been relatively many previous researches revealing brain activation patterns during translations between L1 and English as L2. These studies, which focused on language translation with close or moderate linguistic distance (LD), have suggested that the Broca area (BA 44/45) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC; BA 46) may play an important role on translation. However, the neural mechanism of language translation between Japanese and English, having large LD, has not been clarified. Thus, we used functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to investigate the brain activation patterns during word translation between Japanese and English. We also assessed the effects of translation directions and word familiarity. All participants’ first language was Japanese and they were learning English. Their English proficiency was advanced or elementary. We selected English and Japanese words as stimuli based on the familiarity for Japanese people. Our results showed that the brain activation patterns during word translation largely differed depending on their English proficiency. The advanced group elicited greater activation on the left prefrontal cortex around the Broca’s area while translating words with low familiarity, but no activation was observed while translating words with high familiarity. On the other hand, the elementary group evoked greater activation on the left temporal area including the superior temporal gyrus (STG) irrespective of the word familiarity. These results suggested that different cognitive process could be involved in word translation corresponding to English proficiency in Japanese learners of English. These difference on the brain activation patterns between the advanced and elementary group may reflect the difference on the cognitive loads depending on the levels of automatization in one’s language processing.
Front Hum Neurosci. 2021 Feb 26;15:593108. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.593108. eCollection 2021.