Reevaluating the Language of Learning Advantage in Bilingual Arithmetic: An ERP Study on Spoken Multiplication Verification
Many studies of bilingual arithmetic report better performance when verifying arithmetic facts in the language of learning (LA+) over the other language (LA−). This could be due to language-specific memory representations, processes established during learning, or to language and task factors not related to math. The current study builds on a small number of event-related potential (ERP) studies to test this question while controlling language proficiency and eliminating potential task confounds. Adults proficient in two languages verified single-digit multiplications presented as spoken number words in LA+ and LA−, separately. ERPs and correctness judgments were measured from solution onset. Equivalent P300 effects, with larger positive amplitude for correct than incorrect solutions, were observed in both languages (Experiment 1A), even when stimuli presentation rate was shortened to increase difficulty (Experiment 1B). This effect paralleled the arithmetic correctness effect for trials presented as all digits (e.g., 2 4 8 versus 2 4 10), reflecting efficient categorization of the solutions, and was distinct from an N400 generated in a word–picture matching task, reflecting meaning processing (Experiment 2). The findings reveal that the language effects on arithmetic are likely driven by language and task factors rather than differences in memory representation in each language.