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

pants ability to identify individual speech sounds in isolation rather than learning speech sounds in a linguistic context. Others have looked at the connection between existing language proficiency and brain structure.

While our study demonstrates a link between biology and linguistics, we do not argue that biology is destiny when it comes to learning a second language, Wong emphasized. Adults with smaller volumes of left HG gray matter need not despair that they can never learn another language.

We are already testing different learning strategies for participants whom we predict will be less successful to see if altering the training paradigm results in more successful learning, Wong added.

According to Warrier, Northwestern research professor of communication sciences and disorders, the researchers were surprised to find the HG important in second language learning. The HG, which contains the primary region of the auditory cortex, is typically associated with handling the basic building blocks of sound -- whether the pitch of a sound is going up or down, where sounds come from and how loud a sound is -- and not associated with speech per se, she said.

The 17 research participants aged 18 to 26 who had their brain scans taken prior to participating in the pseudo second-language training were previously participants in two related studies published by Wong and his research team.

The three studies have identified behavioral, neurophysiologic and, with the current study, neuroanatomic factors which, when combined, can better predict second- language learning success than can each single factor alone.

In a behavioral study, Wongs group found that musical training started at an early age contributed to more successful spoken foreign-language learning. The study participants with musical experience also were found to be better at identifying pitch patterns before training.

In a neurophysiologic study -- again wit

Contact: Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Northwestern University

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