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Bilingual dogs

When Laura Cuaya moved from Mexico to Budapest, Hungary, to begin her post-doctoral research at the Neuroethology of Communication Laboratory at Eötvös Loraánd University, there was a nagging question in her mind. Would her two dogs, who she was bringing with her, notice the different language spoken in the new country?

“People are super friendly with their dogs [in Budapest]. And my dogs, they are interested in interacting with people,” Cuaya told NPR. “But I wonder, did they also notice people here…spoke a different language?”

To find out, she and her colleagiues set up an experiment to find out. They put 18 dogs – Cuaya’s two who were used to hearing Spanish and 16 locals dogs used to hearing Hungarian – through an MRI scan while they listened to a recording of a bit of The Little Prince, once in Spanish and once in Hungarian. 

Cuaya and her gang found that there was different brain activity depending on whether the dogs were listening to their familiar language or the foreign one, meaning that the dogs could tell they were hearing two different languages. They also found that the activity was more marked in older dogs, which may be because they are more used to hearing human language.

You can try a home experiment of your own on your dog by speaking to them in a new language and seeing if they tilt their head in the classic ‘what’s that then?’ dog move or look surprised in some other way.

Image courtesy of Pixab
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Liz Granirer
Liz Granirer
Liz has been a journalist for many years. She is currently editor of EL Gazette and has previously edited the magazines Young Performer, StepForward and Accounting Technician; been deputy editor on Right Start magazine; chief sub editor on Country Homes & Interiors; and sub editor on easyJet Traveller, Lonely Planet and Family Traveller magazines, along with a number of others.
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