Babies’ ability to soak up language makes them the envy of adult learners everywhere. Still, some grown-ups can acquire new tongues with surprising ease. Now some studies suggest it is possible to predict a person’s language-learning abilities from his or her brain structure or activity—results that may eventually be used to help even the most linguistically challenged succeed.
In one study, published in 2015 in the Journal of Neurolinguistics, a team of researchers looked at the structure of neuron fibers in white matter in 22 beginning Mandarin students. Those who had more spatially aligned fibers in their right hemisphere had higher test scores after four weeks of classes, the scientists found.
In another study, published in June 2016 in Brain and Language, EEG scans before an intensive online French course revealed patterns of brain-wave activity in a relaxed, resting state that correlated with completing the course quickly and easily.
What language aptitude really is and how it manifests in the brain are complex questions, touching on the nature of attention and even consciousness.
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