Research on Learning a Second Language?

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March 21, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

Learning a second language is easier for some adults than others, and innate differences in how the various parts of the brain “talk” to one another may help explain why, according to a study published January 20 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“These findings have implications for predicting language learning success and failure,” said study author Xiaoqian Chai.

The various regions of our brains communicate with each other even when we are resting and aren’t engaged in any specific tasks. The strength of these connections — called resting-state connectivity — varies from person to person, and differences have previously been linked to differences in behavior including language ability.

Led by Chai and Denise Klein, researchers at McGill University explored whether differences in resting-state connectivity relate to performance in a second language. To study this, the group at the Montreal Neurological Institute scanned the brains of 15 adult English speakers who were about to begin an intensive 12-week French course, and then tested their language abilities both before and after the course.

Using resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers examined the connectivity within the subjects’ brains prior to the start of the French course. They looked at the strength of connections between various areas in the brain and two specific language regions: an area of the brain implicated in verbal fluency, the left anterior insula/frontal operculum (AI/FO), and an area active in reading, the visual word form area (VWFA).

The researchers tested the participants’ verbal fluency and reading speed both prior to the course and after its completion. To test verbal fluency, the researchers gave subjects a prompt and asked them to speak for two minutes in French. The researchers counted the number of unique words that were used correctly. To test reading speed, the researchers had participants read French passages aloud, and they calculated the number of words read per minute.

Participants with stronger connections between the left AI/FO and an important region of the brain’s language network called the left superior temporal gyrus showed greater improvement in the speaking test. Participants with greater connectivity between the VWFA and a different area of the left superior temporal gyrus language area in the left temporal lobe showed greater improvement in reading speed by the end of the 12-week course.

“The most interesting part of this finding is that the connectivity between the different areas was observed before learning,” said Arturo Hernandez, a neuroscientist at the University of Houston who studies second-language learning and was not involved in the study. “This shows that some individuals may have a particular neuronal activity pattern that may lend itself to better learning of a second language.”

However, that doesn’t mean success at a second language is entirely predetermined by the brain’s wiring. The brain is very plastic, meaning that it can be shaped by learning and experience, Chai said.

The study is “a first step to understanding individual differences in second language learning,” she added. “In the long term it might help us to develop better methods for helping people to learn better.”

Adapted from sciencedaily.

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This was an article on Education.

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Jack Westin
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33 Comments


  1. This is a precursor study to better understanding how our brains process language. VWFA/temporal gyral processing results in more word processing speed whereas AI/FO temporal gyral results in better speaking on average. These connections were already there; hard to say if unchangable due to plasticity.

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  2. Main points: Researchers wanted to see the neural connections responsible for learning a second language –> fMRI before and after French course –> Some people have neural connections that make them more successful BUT the brain’s neuroplasticity can help you make these connections too.

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  3. MIP: Easier 2nd Lang. learning=resting state connectivity

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  4. Wiring between different parts of brain predict performance in language learning tasks.

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  5. MIP: resting connectivity = varies + better learning 2nd lang

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  6. To illustrate whether differences in brain connectivity relate to performance in second language.

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  7. brain determines 2nd language learning, measured resting state, genetics not only factor

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  8. MIP: Brain connections = varies ppl =/= predetermined success (CW) = ++++learning/experience (Chai)

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  9. Brains wiring=> learning 2nd lang (chai)

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  10. Resting state networks can predict language learning.

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  11. Innate differences in the brain explain why some people master second language easier than others / Participants with stronger connections between verbal fluency area and language network area showed greater verbal fluency; those with greater connectivity between reading area and a language area showed greater reading speed / Connectivity between different areas of the brain allow people to pick up second language with ease but brain’s wiring does not predetermine mastery of second language since neural plasticity can take place / However, understanding brain wiring in the mastery of second language can allow people to develop methods to learn better in future.

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  12. resting state influence lang (Klein)

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  13. Language ability is linked to brain wiring (resting state connectivity) –> individuals have different abilitiy in language learning but brain is also plastic
    left AI/FO = speaking; VWFA = reading

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  14. MI: Resting State Connectivity -> 2nd language learning ability

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  15. Stronger brain connections = ^ language learning

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  16. 2nd language learning ability influenced, but not controlled, by brain wiring.

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  17. MIP: Second language learning = brain communication + RSC
    Tone: Neutral

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  18. innate differences in brain connectivity—->better language learning
    But, this does not mean people without these innate connections can’t learn just as well because the brain is very plastic—->find better ways to teach to induce better learning

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  19. ↑ brain connectivity = ↑ 2nd lang. acquisition

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  20. better resting state connectivity = success at a second language.

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  21. Differences on how individuals learn a second language + resting state activity = different + 2nd lang success = learning + experience

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  22. MI: Wiring of the brain can have an effect on learning a 2nd lang. Study shows a primarily connection between how lang can be learned.

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  23. Brain connectivity (resting-state connectivity) pattern may help better second language learning, but learning/experiences also shape learning the ability

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  24. MIP: stronger connections = better language

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  25. brain connections —-> language learning ability + fluency + speed

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  26. The author explained a study of the connectivity between structures in the brain and the success of learning a second language, which is only a first step in order to determine learning differences in each person. People with greater connectivity between AI/FO and the left superior temporal gyrus learned how to speak the new language better than others, and those with greater connectivity between VWFA and another region of the left superior temporal gyrus learned how to read more quickly than others.

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  27. lang learning= differs bc of brain connectivity
    brain= plasticity so ^^= not only explanation

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  28. RSC and 2nd language effects ; success of a second language is not only based off of brains wiring

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  29. resting state connectivity is a link within the brain that has shown to be stronger among people who know a second language because of communication within the brain; but you can improve this because the brain is plastic

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  30. MIP: 2nd lang. easier for some b/c brain differences, but brain = plastic… more research needed; tone = neutral

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  31. This passage informs the audience on a study conducted to find of certain people have an advantage to learning a second language based on their neuronal circuits. Using fMRI, scientists were able to obtain before and after images (after a 12 week french course) of 15 subjects to determine whether there were advantages, and tested this by conducting verbal and reading speed tasks.
    Ultimately, the neuroscientists found that some subjects were at an advantage due to the neural circuity they had. However, this did not mean others were worse off at learning a second language. The brain is very plastic, and can change over time and through experience.

    Reply

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