The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of language acquisition in a realistic learning environment. Japanese native speakers were trained in a miniature version of German prior to fMRI scanning. During scanning they listened to (1) familiar sentences, (2) sentences including a novel sentence structure and (3) sentences containing a novel word while visual context provided referential information. Learning-related decreases of brain activation over time were found in a mainly left-hemispheric network comprising classical frontal and temporal language areas as well as parietal and subcortical regions and were largely overlapping for novel words and the novel sentence structure in initial stages of learning. Differences occurred at later stages of learning during which content-specific activation patterns in prefrontal, parietal and temporal cortices emerged. The results are taken as evidence for a domain-general network supporting the initial stages of language learning which dynamically adapts as learners become proficient
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