Testing second language oral proficiency in direct and semidirect settings: A social-cognitive neuroscience perspective

Hyeonjeong Jeong, Hiroshi Hashizume, Motoaki Sugiura, Yuko Sassa, Satoru Yokoyama, Shuken Shiozaki, Ryuta Kawashima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify differences in the neural processes underlying direct and semidirect interviews. We examined brain activation patterns while 20 native speakers of Japanese participated in direct and semidirect interviews in both Japanese (first language [L1]) and English (second language [L2]). Significantly greater activation was observed in the regions involved in social communication (the medial prefrontal cortex and the bilateral posterior superior temporal sulci) during the direct interview conducted in the L2 than during the semidirect interview conducted in the L2. In contrast, both the direct and semidirect interviews conducted in the L1 produced similar increases in activation in the same brain areas as those observed during the L2 direct interview. These findings suggest that the direct interview may have elicited L2 communicative ability to a greater degree than the semidirect interview. Furthermore, during the L2 direct interview, activity in the right superior temporal region, which is involved in the processing of paralinguistic features (e.g., prosody and intonation), was positively correlated with increased L2 oral proficiency. Based on our findings, we conclude that the L2 direct interview may elicit more balanced and varied aspects of communicative ability than the L2 semidirect interview.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)675-699
Number of pages25
JournalLanguage Learning
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Sept


  • Computer-based interaction OPI
  • Face-to-face interaction
  • FMRI
  • Social communication
  • SOPI
  • Speaking assessment


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