Both sides of the brain contribute to language learning and expression.
Last week, we found that the left side helps produce speech.
So, what does the right side do?
Let’s take a look.
Right Brain Activated
The left side of the brain is considered the language processing hub.
But when someone suffers a stroke or another injury that impacts the language center in the left hemisphere of the brain, something amazing happens: the right hemisphere takes over.
This made scientists curious as to how much each side of the brain is actually responsible for language processing and production.
This is what they found.
Studies have shown that the right hemisphere is specifically triggered when differentiating between sounds.
A study by the University of Delaware taught Mandarin Chinese to 24 native English-speaking adults.
Looking at the students’ brain scans during language acquisition, the study found that the right hemisphere of the brain took center stage when focusing on acoustic details while learning Mandarin Chinese.
Being that the right hemisphere of the brain has been largely overlooked in past language research, University of Delaware cognitive neuroscientist Zhenghan Qi believes these findings can help us understand language learning.
While the right side’s role in language diminishes as the student progresses, in the beginning stages, the right is crucial to pronunciation.
“It turns out that the right hemisphere is very important in processing foreign speech sounds at the beginning of learning…We found that the more active the right hemisphere is, the more sensitive the listener is to acoustic differences in sound. Everyone has different levels of activation, but even if you don’t have that sensitivity to begin with, you can still learn successfully if your brain is plastic enough.”
Qi explained that adults can train themselves to “become more sensitive to foreign speech sounds.”
Another aspect of right-brain involvement in language was uncovered in the study by cognitive neuroscientist Kshipra Gurunandan, analyzed in last week’s post.
The study found that the right hemisphere was most active in reading foreign language, followed by listening.
Researchers there also found greater right hemisphere involvement in adults who’d learned more than one language in early childhood versus monolingual adults.
So, while right-brain learners might think they don’t stand a chance at learning a second language, due to the stronger left-brain involvement, these studies tell a different story.