psycholinguistics

Better Brain Connectivity Leads to Success in Second Language Learning?

Are some people's brains wired up better to learn to speak in a Second Language (L2)? An interesting study published on the Journal of Neuroscience investigates this question. Chai and colleagues conducted this research at McGill University and found that there is a positive correlation between a) one's brain connectivity in the brain region for speaking and b) the production of spontaneous speech in L2. In other words, the more connected one's speaking region is, the more accurate one's spontaneous speech in L2. 

The researchers scanned the brain activities of English speakers before and after their participation in a French intensive program for 12 weeks. They found that, after the program, English speakers with stronger connectivity in the speech region of their brain tend to produce spontaneous speech in French accurately, whereas English speakers with greater connectivity in the reading region of the brain are more likely to show improvement in their reading speed in French. The result implies that some people have an advantage to learn to speak in a Second Language due to the neuronal connectivity in their brains. 

The Difference Between Second Language (L2) and Foreign Language (FL)

Second Language (L2):

A speaker (child or adult) who has already acquired a native language is learning another language that is widely spoken in the region s/he live in. For instance, an English speaker living in Montreal (a bilingual city in French and English) would be learning a Second Language - French. 

Foreign Language (FL): 

A speaker (child or adult) who already acquired a native language is learning another language that is NOT commonly spoken in the region s/he lives in. For example, an English speaker living in the United States is learning a Foreign Language - Chinese.  

Study: Babies Remember Birth Language

If you are a heritage student of Chinese or if you are learning another language related to your birth place or family, don't give it up just yet!

A study in 2015 did research on the linguistic memories of Chinese children who were adopted by French-speaking families at 12 months. The results indicate that these children's brain response to tonal sounds is similar to that of bilingual children in French and Chinese, suggesting the brain of Chinese adoptees recognizes the tonal feature of the Chinese language. The full article, ‘Lost’ first languages leave permanent mark on the brain, new study reveals, is available on the Guardian. 

Another recent study supports this hypothesis, suggesting that if you were exposed to a language as young as a prelinguistic baby, your brain actually remembers and retains this ability in your adulthood. Simply put, one can in fact "re-learn" one's first language. Read the full article, Babies Remember Their Birth Language, on BBC News. 

According to the definition by New York University, Heritage Students are: 

1) learners who were born in a Chinese speaking country but grew up in a non-Chinese speaking environment

2) learners who were raised in a home where Chinese was spoken

3) learners who have lived in a Chinese-speaking country for a extended period of time