Right brain also important for learning a new language

October 17, 2017, Leiden University
Right brain also important for learning a new language
Credit: Leiden University

Novel language learning activates different neural processes than was previously thought. A Leiden research team has discovered parallel but separate contributions from the hippocampus and Broca's area, the learning centre in the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere of the brain also seems to play an important role.

The Leiden research team, comprising experimental linguists Olga Kepinska, Johanneke Caspers and Niels Schiller, and psychologist Mischa de Rover, published their findings at the start of October in the international journal NeuroImage. Olga Kepinska, lead author of the article, says, "Language acquisition is generally associated with the left half of the , but this research shows that in the first phase of learning a new language, the right brain hemisphere also plays an important role."

The researchers discovered that the hippocampus primarily interacts with the visual areas and for the Broca language centre a 'broad network' of connections is needed in order to remember grammar rules. Broca's centre, named after its discoverer Paul Pierre Broca, is an area in the left frontal lobe that is important in language and speech. The hippocampus, that is present in both hemispheres, plays a strong role in memory and storing new knowledge.

The team used an fMRI scan to examine the brain activity of forty adult test subjects while they were reconstructing the grammar rules of a made-up language. The degree of patterns of connections from the left and right hippocampi proved to be a strong predictor of good performance. Over the course of the session in the MRI scanner, the researchers saw an increase in the interaction between Broca's centre and the right cortex and parietal areas that act as an interim stage between different regions in the brain. Kepinska: "This shows clearly that the right brain is involved in the first phase of learning a new language."

Learning a new language is a dynamic and layered process, Kepinska explains. It is made up of different aspects: from developing a mental lexicon and learning pronunciation to fathoming sentence construction and mastering the language in practice. "Adults in particular often find it difficult to learn a foreign , and there are major differences in how quickly they learn. This research on the neural aspects of gives us a better understanding of the learning paths in the brain."

Explore further: 'Broca's area' processes both language and music at the same time

Related Stories

'Broca's area' processes both language and music at the same time

November 10, 2015
When you read a book and listen to music, the brain doesn't keep these two tasks nicely separated. A new study shows there is an area in the brain which is busy with both at the same time: Broca's area. This area has been ...

Our brain benefits from an overlap in grammar when learning a foreign language

June 29, 2016
Researchers from Nijmegen have for the first time captured images of the brain during the initial hours and days of learning a new language. They use an artificial language with real structures to show how new linguistic ...

Learning a language depends on good connection between regions of the left hemisphere of the brain

July 22, 2013
Language is a uniquely human ability. The average person's vocabulary consists of about thirty thousand words, although there are individual differences in the ability to learn a new language. It has long been believed that ...

New research shows late bilinguals are sensitive to unique aspects of second language

March 17, 2017
Imagine coming across a sentence in English that reads like this: "Mary apple eats her delicious." For most native-English speakers, the sentence would likely strike you as odd because it doesn't seem to be structured in ...

Neuroscientists find Broca's area is really two subunits, each with its own function

October 16, 2012
A century and a half ago, French physician Pierre Paul Broca found that patients with damage to part of the brain's frontal lobe were unable to speak more than a few words. Later dubbed Broca's area, this region is believed ...

Learning a new language alters brain development

August 29, 2013
The age at which children learn a second language can have a significant bearing on the structure of their adult brain, according to a new joint study by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital - The Neuro at McGill ...

Recommended for you

Parents' brain activity 'echoes' their infant's brain activity when they play together

December 13, 2018
When infants are playing with objects, their early attempts to pay attention to things are accompanied by bursts of high-frequency activity in their brain. But what happens when parents play together with them? New research, ...

How the brain tells you to scratch that itch

December 13, 2018
It's a maddening cycle that has affected us all: it starts with an itch that triggers scratching, but scratching only makes the itchiness worse. Now, researchers have revealed the brain mechanism driving this uncontrollable ...

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

Researchers identify pathway that drives sustained pain following injury

December 13, 2018
A toddler puts her hand on a hot stove and swiftly withdraws it. Alas, it's too late—the child's finger has sustained a minor burn. To soothe the pain, she puts the burned finger in her mouth.

Study confirms role of brain's support cells in Huntington's, points to new therapies

December 13, 2018
New research gives scientists a clearer picture of what is happening in the brains of people with Huntington's disease and lays out a potential path for treatment. The study, which appears today in the journal Cell Stem Cell, ...

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.