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Bilingual Speech Comprehension and Aging


  • Natalie Phillips (Concordia University)
  • Shari Baum (McGill University)
  • Angela Grant (Concordia University)


Aging is associated with changes to speech comprehension that are both positive and negative. Older adults have larger vocabularies than younger adults, but may have more trouble hearing what is said. When older adults are bilingual, these changes become even more complex. Bilinguals’ vocabulary in each language is often smaller than a matched monolingual, for example, yet their vocabulary across both languages is often larger. Being a bilingual means more than knowing two words for every object, however. Being a bilingual requires communicating in two tongues and in many situations, from telephone calls to crowded restaurants. Consequently, many questions remain regarding the influence of aging and bilingualism on speech comprehension. For example, how does language proficiency affect older adults’ speech comprehension in noisy environments?  Can we track the rapid responses of the brain to better understand speech and language processing in older bilinguals? 

Two ongoing research projects in our laboratory address these questions. The first examines how bilinguals use both visual and auditory cues to aid speech comprehension in noisy conditions. The second studies the brain’s responses to short stories in the first and second languages of older adults. Both studies complement our work with younger bilinguals, and will help us to better understand how aging and bilingualism affect language comprehension.

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