Auditory processing of cognate words in bilinguals

Tue, 05/24/2022 - 08:49
Auditory processing of cognate words in bilinguals

An eye movement recording study

When English-Spanish bilinguals hear English words such as piano, radio, or dentist, words that are phonologically similar between the two languages and are known as cognate words, how will they process them? Will they be processed faster compared to words that lack phonological overlap, such as butterfly? And, if cognate words are processed faster when heard, will this advantage depend on the level of the second language and how similar the words are between the two languages?

Filip Andras, Marta Rivera, Daniela Paolieri and Teresa Bajo, CIMCYC researchers, in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University have answered these questions through this research. To carry out the study, they designed a task that consisted of selecting images that corresponded to the words that the participants heard in English, their second language. In addition, they used the technique of eye movement recording, which allowed them to determine at what exact moment people looked at the target image and, therefore, when they understood it.

The results showed that cognate words are processed faster and that this advantage does not depend on the degree of phonological overlap; as long as there is partial overlap, cognate words are processed faster. Moreover, only intermediate English proficient people benefited from the overlap between words while high proficient people processed both cognate words and words lacking the phonological overlap equally well.

This study was one of the first to investigate how bilinguals process cognate words in listening comprehension, adding evidence to the phenomenon known as the cognate facilitation effect in this modality.


  • Filip Andras:
  • Marta Rivera Zurita: @email
  • María Teresa Bajo: @email
  • Daniela Paolieri: @email

Full reference

Andras, F., Rivera, M., Bajo, T., Dussias, P. E., & Paolieri, D. (2022). Cognate facilitation effect during auditory comprehension of a second language: A visual world eye-tracking study. International Journal of Bilingualism, 136700692110333.