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If things ultimately work out as hoped, brain implants will ultimately restore communication for those who have become paralyzed due to injury or disease. But we’re a long way from that future, and the implants are currently limited to testing in clinical trials.

One of those clinical trials, based at the University of California, San Francisco, has now inadvertently revealed something about how the brain handles language, because one of the patients enrolled in the trial was bilingual, using English and Spanish. By tracking activity in the area of the brain where the intention to speak gets translated into control over the vocal tract, researchers found that both languages produce consistent signals in this area, so training the system to pick up English phrases would help improve its recognition of Spanish.

Making some noise

Understanding bilingualism is obviously useful for understanding how the brain handles language in general. The new paper describing the work also points out that restoring communications in multiple languages should be a goal for restoring communications to people. Bilingual people will often change languages based on different social situations or sometimes do so within a sentence in order to express themselves more clearly. They often describe bilingual abilities as a key component of their personalities.

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