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Learning a second language -- Is it all in your head?

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Think you havent got the aptitude to learn a foreign language? New research led by Northwestern University neuroscientists suggests that the problem, quite literally, could be in your head.

Our study links brain anatomy to the ability to learn a second language in adulthood, said neuroscientist Patrick Wong, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern and lead author of a study appearing online today (July 25) at , in Cerebral Cortex.

Based on the size of Heschls Gyrus (HG), a brain structure that typically accounts for no more than 0.2 percent of entire brain volume, the researchers found they could predict -- even before exposing study participants to an invented language -- which participants would be more successful in learning 18 words in the pseudo language.

Wong and his colleagues measured the size of HG, a finger-shaped structure in both the right and left side of the brain, using a method developed by co-authors Virginia Penhune and Robert Zatorre (Montreal Neurological Institute). Zatorre and Penhune are well known for research on human speech and music processing and the brain.

We found that the size of left HG, but not right HG, made the difference, said Northwesterns Catherine Warrier, a primary author of the article titled Volume of Left Heschls Gyrus and Linguistic Pitch. Anil K. Roy (Northwestern), Abdulmalek Sadehh (West Virginia University) and Todd Parish (Northwestern) also are co-authors.

The study is the first to consider the predictive value of a specific brain structure on linguistic learning even before training has begun. Specifically, the researchers measured the size of study participants right and left Heschls Gyrus on MRI brains scans, including calculations of the volume of gray and white matter.

Studies in the past have looked at the connection between brain structure and a partici
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Contact: Pat Vaughan Tremmel
p-tremmel@northwestern.edu
847-491-4892
Northwestern University
25-Jul-2007


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