Are you a right-brain thinker? Or a left-brain thinker?
In other words, are you a creative, innovative type (right-brain)? Or are you logical and analytical (left-brain)?
And which side is a stronger language learner?
Never fear: both sides of the brain assist language learning, according to research.
But to different degrees and in different ways.
Let’s see how.
Left Side Activated
The left hemisphere of the brain stores some 90 percent of our native language.
This is why it’s long been thought that left-brain thinkers may have a better capacity to learn a second language.
The left frontal lobe – specifically Broca’s area – activates the production and articulation of speech.
The left temporal lobe – specifically the Wernicke’s area – influences language comprehension and development.
This does not mean language learning only involves the left side of the brain; both sides work together in the learning and production of language.
Various parts of the brain are activated to degrees, depending on what aspect of language one is learning, whether it’s the lexicon (words), the sounds (phonology), or the syntax (grammar).
Studies have found that speaking a foreign language largely activates the left side of the brain.
A study by cognitive neuroscientist Kshipra Gurunandan, of the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language, looked at brain scans from Spanish speakers who were learning English or Basque.
Each group performed language tasks, involving reading, speaking, and listening in their native and foreign languages.
No matter the language level of the speaker, the left hemisphere of the brain was primarily activated during speaking tasks, while reading and listening were variable.
“In the earliest stages of language learning the native and new languages tended to activate the same hemisphere, while in the more advanced learners they activated different hemispheres. And the switch from the same to the opposite hemispheres was largest in reading, it was slightly smaller in listening and it was non-existent in speaking.”
The researchers believe this left-brain focus during speech specifically is due to the specialized circuits in this hemisphere which control speech production.
The conclusion we draw here is that left-brain learners will have a greater propensity for learning how to speak a second language.
Next week, we’ll discuss where right-brain learners may have an edge.