New research reveals that learning a new language with help from the native tongue is possible because our brain reuses characteristics of what we already know, and gives us a boost.
Understanding language is a difficult task, and brain functions allow us to recognize patterns in words and land put them into a complete phrase, word, or sentence which has meaning. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the brain reuses those functions when we learn a new language.
Researchers in the Netherlands investigated what happens to the brain when first learning a foreign language. They made up a language, “Alienese,” but the language had real structures similar to real languages so that participants would use their native language in processing new information.
Words were combined in an order that was not the same as Dutch word order, or was the same. Participants read sendences with familiar and unfamiliar word orders along with pictures that showed the meaning of the words.
When unfamiliar words were repeated, the region of the brain used in native language increased activity. When the word order that was familiar was repeated, brain activity in those regions decreased.
“Processing a known structure is easier for the brain the second time round. As a whole, our study shows that we seem to use the same brain areas for native and new language structures and that Alienese was in the process of being integrated into the participants’ existing language brain networks,” said Kirsten Weber, lead study author.