Have you ever wondered what happens in your brain when learning foreign languages? Or why are some people better than others? Thanks to this short blog you’ll learn more about how your brain works, and you’ll be given some helpful tips for languages!
Let’s talk a bit about science!
Learning a foreign language is visible in your brain: Learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. This is what Swedish scientists discovered when someone learns a second language.
We are all able to learn foreign languages: This is what the study revealed. Indeed, we all have specific parts of our brain dedicated for learning languages - comprehension is in Wernicke’s area which is in the temporal lobe while speaking is in Broca’s rea located in the left frontal lobe.
But unfortunately we aren’t equal: Thanks to an experiment, the Swedish MRI revealed that the areas of the brain that grow are linked to how easy the learners find languages, and brain development varied according to performance.
You’ve probably heard that children are better at languages or that bilinguals find it very easy to learn a third language, but do you know why?
Do children have Super-Brains?
Yes! The brain isn’t completely developed at this early age as there are many more connections made inside the brain than adults’. The brain is more open to new sounds. Infants can identify around 150 different sounds whereas adults can only perceive 40 sounds from their native language. That’s why infants can learn any language.
Pronunciation and accent: Giving that they can perceive more sounds than adults, they are more likely to pronounce them right. Thus they will be able to speak several languages without having any accents. This isn’t the case for adults because you are already steeped in your native language, so you learn a new language through your own language sound system.
Why are Bilinguals better at learning a third language? How does their brain work?
The explanation is simple. A bilingual who is learning a third language would have gone through the stages of learning a second language therefore when he is learning the third language he would have a better understanding of how the process is; which would make it easier for him, compared to a monolingual learning a second language.
Also their brains are more efficient than a monolingual’s. An experiment from the University of Houston, used tools to scan the brains of 2 different groups while they were asked to recognize words they were hearing. The first group was composed by bilinguals and the second one by monolinguals. This study showed that monolinguals' brain activities were much higher than bilinguals’. This means that monolinguals had to work much harder to perform the task.
Finally, bilinguals have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals. This can explain why bilingual people are better at learning a new language.
You might think that only children and bilinguals can excel at languages, but don’t worry here are some tips that can help you.
Software: If you have difficulties in identifying foreign sounds, some software exaggerate these sounds to help your brain recognize them.
Practice: Living for several months or years in a foreign country is the best way to learn a language since you get the opportunity to hear different sound systems every day. Thus you get used to speaking the targeted language faster.
Accent: Strong accents may seem like a hindrance, but pronunciation isn't an indicator of fluency. Furthermore, if you’re studying a popular foreign language like Spanish or French, listeners are used to hearing their language pronounced in foreign accents. So an accent shouldn't impede communication.
To sum up, learning a new language depends on your age, and if you speak one or several languages. For each situation, we’ve seen above that the brain doesn’t work the same way. However, what you need to remember is that everyone’s brain is able to learn several languages. So don’t say you can’t because you can! This is science.
Written by Anais Laget
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