When it comes to learning new languages, the brain has a ‘soft’ side
By Michaela Felsenthal The word brain is in the dictionary.
But it’s a loaded one.
Brain scientists are constantly discovering new brain structures, including the structures that make up our language brains, as they try to learn more languages.
“If you want to learn a language, you can learn a lot more with just one brain,” says Peter Sallust, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and one of the pioneers of the field.
“That’s because there’s more information in a language than you think there is.”
In a new study, published in the journal Science Advances, Sallost and his colleagues have uncovered a network of brain structures that appear to help us learn a wide variety of languages, from Hindi to Spanish.
They found that brain regions associated with processing visual information — known as the visual system — are more active in those who speak more languages than people who don’t.
This suggests that, unlike our sense of taste and smell, the visual information processing in the brain is a more complex task than we think.
“This brain network is one of those things you don’t really understand, but you get to know,” Salluster says.
“You’re learning it and then you can start to see how it’s working.”
Sallusters team is studying how these visual regions contribute to language learning.
They’ve found that some of the visual regions are important for understanding a language’s grammatical structure, meaning that when you see the sentence structure in the language, it’s not necessarily the same sentence structure you get in the speech.
In other words, when you hear the word “gazebo” in Hindi, you don�t have to actually see the grammar, you just have to hear the sentence.
The study, which involved imaging brain tissue from 19 healthy adults, also found that certain regions of the brain responded differently to pictures of words with similar meanings.
Those areas that process the word were more active when people were learning a language with fewer grammatical words.
This means that you might think, “Gazebos are just nouns, so I shouldn’t have to think about that.”
In Hindi, the picture of a person with the word gazeba could have the same meaning as the word na gazh, meaning “a lot.”
The findings suggest that some people learn more efficiently with fewer words.
That might not be the case for everyone, though.
“We know that language learners tend to have more difficulty with certain words than others,” says Dr. Daniel Schatz, a psychologist at Stanford University who was not involved in the research.
In his own research, he found that learners of Mandarin Chinese, which uses a slightly different grammar than Hindi, tend to be more likely to learn Hindi with fewer sentences.
The language may be difficult to learn, but language learning seems to be a process that starts with language.
“It�s hard for someone who just started learning a foreign language to make a conscious effort to learn the language,” he says.
What are the benefits of learning more languages?
The study also found a relationship between language learning and a decrease in anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.
The researchers say their findings also suggest that language learning may have benefits for health and social functioning.
The team found that the number of regions of interest in the visual cortex in the left side of the brains showed a significant decrease in language learning activity after the language was learned.
That suggests that learning new foreign languages can improve your overall health, and that learning a new language helps people manage anxiety and depression.
The brain structure that makes up the visual area also appeared to help with memory and learning.
“There was some evidence that people with less difficulty with learning a grammar in Hindi or French could have more trouble with language learning,” Sillust says.
He notes that the language learning process is complex, but that people who are able to learn it quickly and easily could benefit from it.
“Language learning is very hard.
It requires lots of practice and a lot of practice is good,” Sillsust says, “but it’s also not just learning one word at a time.”
That’s because you have to keep track of the word you’ve learned.
“The brain needs to be able to keep that information in memory,” he explains.
The findings also shed light on how language learning might help people with disabilities.
It seems that people whose language is difficult to speak, for example, are less likely to have language learning difficulties.
But if someone is able to speak well enough to understand, understand and learn a foreign word, they are less affected by language learning issues.
“A lot of people with speech disabilities don’t get the same benefit,” Sallsust says of people who learn languages.
He also suggests that language-learning programs are best for people with autism.
The program that Sallests team is testing in the lab involves giving the participants an