Brain activity can demonstrate how fast a second language is learned

30 January 2011


This week teams in both Hong Kong and Chicago have found that the levels of activity in two specific areas of the brain can be used to predict how well someone is learning a second language.

Caudate nucleusLi Hai Tan and colleagues found that the left caudate and fusiform gyrus areas of the brain displayed more activity the better the language student performed in their tests. The fusiform part of the brain is located at the back and base of the brain while the caudate is found closer to the centre and is shaped a bit like hooked headphones.

They used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) in between tests taken by 26 10 year old Chinese students who were learning English. They were given the first written test just before the fMRI scan and the second one year later. During the fMRI scan the children were asked to identify written English words. They found that those who'd demonstrated the greatest amount of activity in the caudate and fusiform regions during the scan performed better in the first and second tests.

Publishing in the journal PNAS, Tan and his team believe that the amount of activity in these two brain areas can therefore be used to predict how well a student will do when they learn a second language.


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