A child-like state helps language learning


Adults learn a foreign language better when the cognitive abilities typical of adults are suppressed from interference. This was revealed by a professor of cognitive science at the University of Helsinki Riikka Möttönen and in the study of colleagues.

“Attenuation helped adults learn effortlessly and unconsciously in the same way that children learn foreign languages,” says Möttönen.

Babies and young children pick up regularities and structures early on from the speech they hear around them. This is how they learn the language automatically and unnoticed.

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As an adult, learning a foreign language is difficult again. According to Möttönen, this is kind of surprising because adults have more advanced cognitive abilities than children.

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The frontal lobe of the cognitive abilities typical of adults is the frontal lobe.

These take care of conscious thinking, deliberation, directing one’s own actions and planning for the future. Abilities and the areas of the brain that support them develop well into adulthood.

However, according to Möttönen, higher cognitive skills in adults interfere with language learning because they limit the learning mechanism inherent in children.

“Mechanisms still exist in the adult brain, but late-onset functions limit their functioning,” says Möttönen.

The better ability of a child to learn languages ​​than that of an adult has been explained by the fact that there are special periods of sensitivity in childhood that promote learning. When the periods are over, the ability to learn also wears off.

However, the findings of Möttönen and his colleagues suggest that the skill typical of a child is not lost, at least not completely, as an adult.

In their experiments, the researchers suppressed the frontal lobe function of adult subjects by magnetic stimulation of the brain before they listened to the byte flow of the artificial tongue.

“Subjects learn to better extract language structures and regularities from the sound stream. But they were not aware of their learning. The situation was similar to children who learn words and sentence structures without being aware. ”

The learning was also better in the second experiment, where the subjects performed tasks that required concentration before listening to the stream of syllables.

Doing tasks tired higher cognitive abilities so that they did not interfere with language acquisition.

According to Möttönen, it is not yet clear whether the discovery of his group could help language students.

The concentration test mentioned above seems to provide an indication of how learning could be promoted.

“It would be quite possible to suppress the cognitive abilities inherent in adults by giving them tasks that require concentration and at the same time, for example, listening to a foreign language. It could improve automatic language learning. ”

The study was published scientific journal Pnas.


Source: Tiede by www.tiede.fi.

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