How the Brain Develops a Second Language
“No man fully capable of his own language ever masters another.” George Bernard Shaw said that, and as someone who aims to learn as many languages as one lifespan permits, I am delighted to report that the findings of cognitive and linguistic research have actually demonstrated au contraire.
Take this Dartmouth College study from way back in 2002 on bilingual children, which found that “if children are exposed to two languages from a very early age, they will essentially grow as if there were two mono-linguals housed in one brain….without any of the dreaded ‘language contamination’ often attributed to early bilingual exposure.”
But that’s only if someone is raised bilingual, right? It’s not as if mature adults can simply “grow” another linguistic framework in addition to the one they’ve had since childhood….right?
It turns out there’s already plenty of research blowing that age-old belief out of the water too – and most of said research is from even further back, well into the 1990’s. This article from Professor Fred Genesee of McGill University states that “teaching and teachers can make a difference in brain development, and that they shouldn’t give up on older language learners.” Here’s where Posit Science comes in.
If it’s true that, as the article states, even the visual parts of the brain can rewire themselves to process auditory information and that “the cortical map [of the brain] can change even in adulthood in response to enriched environmental or learning experiences,” then the auditory exercises in the Brain Fitness Program and other Posit software can aid directly with learning a foreign language.
Take the case of Arthur Marquis: after retiring, already well into his 50’s, he learned French well enough to study abroad in both France and Switzerland, and using the Brain Fitness Program helped him get there. Arthur has a great memory, but when he first began learning French he couldn’t process the sounds making up the words fast enough to have a conversation.
After using the Brain Fitness Program everyday for several months, not only could he distinguish between the “che” and “ghe” sounds in the exercises, but he also found himself discerning the subtle shades in tone and phrasing that make French so notoriously hard to learn. What once sounded like a wild blur of sounds became clear and decipherable.
What this amounts to, in my mind, is a potential win-win-win situation for Posit Science, language teachers and would-be language learners who feel it’s too late for them to learn: not only are you practicing brain fitness simply by learning a second language in the first place, but you can use Posit’s brain fitness software to help you along the way.