Researchers have long known that the brain changes when people learn a new language. But the relationship between the ability to learn a new language and the structure of the brain before the language has been learned has been a mystery until now, says Mikael Roll, a neurolinguist at Lund University in Sweden.
Roll and his colleagues made this discovery by measuring the thickness of the cerebral cortex of 44 study participants and compared the relationship between cortical thickness and performance on different language tests.
A part of the frontal lobe in the left hemisphere of the brain is called Broca’s area, and is known to be involved in the understanding of grammar.
The thickness of the cerebral cortex in the corresponding area in the right hemisphere had a relationship to how well participants were able to hear differences in pitch, which relates to the melody or “music” of the language.
Roll believes that learning more about which areas of the brain are important in the ability to learn new languages could eventually be used to develop more effective methods of language learning.
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