The Cost of Being Bilingual: The Example of Verbal Fluency and Switching

  • Jeanette Altarriba
  • Stephanie A. Kazanas
Part of the The Bilingual Mind and Brain Book Series book series (BMBBS)


In recent decades, researchers have noted consistent costs in lexical access among bilingual participants. Using a variety of fluency measures, but primarily picture-naming with switching, bilinguals are often outperformed by their monolingual peers. Bilingual deficits on fluency measures are observed across the lifespan, though recent findings would argue that deficits are more likely the result of differences according to language proficiency, balanced bilingualism, and everyday switching frequency. Furthermore, these deficits are surprisingly met with bilingual advantages in other tasks measuring executive control processes, such as the Simon, Stroop, and flanker task, which are thought to tap into inhibition and conflict monitoring abilities. The current chapter outlines these findings, as well as the current debate surrounding the bilingual advantage: a hypothesized account for everyday language-switching leading to stronger executive function, as measured with behavioral and neuroimaging methods. Inconsistencies across these methods have led to greater urgency for more rigorous experimental control, additional statistical analyses, and new behavioral tasks.


Bilingual advantage Executive control  Neuroimaging Onset age of second language acquisition Language proficiency Language-switching 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity at Albany, State University of New YorkAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Counseling and PsychologyTennessee Technological UniversityCookevilleUSA

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