Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Putting a little more muscle in your (pronunciation) teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Every body builder knows that increasing muscle mass requires moving more iron or the equivalent. Turns out, the same principle applies in the brain when learning--in this case, language. In a study by Mårtensson and colleagues at Lund University (summarized by Science Daily) it was shown that in learning a language something analogous happens: certain areas increase more in size, depending on how efficiently the learner acquired the language:

"Students with greater growth (increase in mass) in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language learning (superior temporal gyrus) had better language skills than the other students. In students who had to put more effort into their learning, greater growth was seen in an area of the motor region of the cerebral cortex (middle frontal gyrus)." (Bold face, mine.) 

In other words, some subjects, probably your average learners, relied upon more motor or tactile/kinaesthetic engagement in the process, whereas the "gifted" appeared able to learn in a more visual/auditory mode, where experiential, oral practice may not have been as critical to success. We all know someone like that, who seems to be able to either read or listen to new language material and almost as if by magic is able to use it immediately in speaking, understanding or writing. They simply have "superior temporal gyrus(es)!" Unfortunate "motor-mortals" like myself  depend more on our "middle frontal gyrus(es)". So much for the myth that learning a language better just requires more hard work. More haptic-integration for the rest of us may help, however . . .

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