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Are simultaneous interpreters expert bilinguals, unique bilinguals, or both?*



Simultaneous interpretation is a cognitively demanding process that requires a high level of language management. Previous studies on bilinguals have suggested that extensive practice managing two languages leads to enhancements in cognitive control. Thus, interpreters may be expected to show benefits beyond those seen in bilinguals, either as an extension of previously-seen benefits or in areas specific to interpretation. The present study examined professional interpreters (N = 23) and matched multilinguals (N = 21) on memory tests, the color-word Stroop task, the Attention Network Test, and a non-linguistic task-switching paradigm. The interpreters did not show advantages in conflict resolution or switching cost where bilingual benefits have been noted. However, an interpretation-specific advantage emerged on the mixing cost in the task-switching paradigm. Additionally, the interpreters had larger verbal and spatial memory spans. Interpreters do not continue to garner benefits from bilingualism, but they do appear to possess benefits specific to their experience with simultaneous interpretation.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Laura Babcock, Via Giustiniani 5, 35128 Padova, Italy


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AV and LB are funded by the European Research Council Starting grant LEX-MEA (GA #313692) to AV. LB received an Erasmus ‘Job Placement’ fellowship to conduct the research in Brussels. We thank Regine Kolinsky for making her testing facilities in Brussels available to us. We also thank Olga Puccioni and Randall Engle and the Working Memory and Attention Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology for the use of their programmed tasks. We additionally thank Fergus Craik, Kenneth Paap, and the anonymous reviewers who made useful comments on previous versions of the manuscript.



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