How do I tell if I can pick up a second language faster than others?

by Rick Riddle

Just last year, a friend visited India on a scholarship to advance her studies. I was very surprised when after just 2 and half years, she came back speaking some native language. This bothered me as I have visited several countries for some time and picking up a foreign language is unimaginable. Maybe it's just not my thing or she's just a natural. I have on several occasions cursed my parents for not enrolling me for a foreign language class. At least I could have known whether it's with me or not. As such these experiences have since then forced me to do some research about learning a foreign language because I know how helpful it is. How can we tell if someone will learn one faster than another? What signs or indicators can be used in these predictions? Outlined below are my findings.

The Brain matters

Led by Dr. Chantel Prat, researchers at the University of Washington's psychology department found out that the brainwave activities variances among individuals may affect their capability of picking up a second language. Increased brain wave activity during resting state was associated with a higher potential to acquire both writing and conversational skills of new foreign languages. The increased beta and gamma activity is only mapped at certain regions of the brain such as the boundary between temporal and parietal lobe.

During the research, some volunteer students' brains were measured for brain wave activity before being subjected to a French class. Their brain wave activities were then measured after the 8week course period. The researchers found out that 60% differences in picking up a second language is caused by the brainwave patterns. This means that we can use this to predict which people can better learn a second language than others. However, this should not be the only determiner because there are some factors such as the motivation to learn a second language. These were not factored in during the research. The findings of this study have been backed by those from another study conducted on 15 English speaking adults. Brain scans can now be used to map the brain activities which will determine someone's capability of picking a foreign language.

Long-term Memory The temporal lobe is associated with memory. Michael Erard tells TIME that although hyperpolygots (never mind looking it up) are extremely rare, they have superpower brains that keep a lot of memories. These guys can remember even the slightest details when they we young then retrieve them later on as adults. He continues to explain that they can mimic sounds, spellings and pronunciations without much effort. Their brains are uniquely structured to accommodate these features.

This is something to look out for when assessing yourself for foreign language learning. How well can you remember stuff? Can you recall your kindergarten teacher's name? Despite having a long term memory, these guys need to put some effort in learning new foreign languages.

Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT)

Designed by psychologist John B. Caroll, the MLAT is basically a test which measures an individual's capability of learning a foreign language. The specific skills tested include the ability to mimic particular sounds, recognizing particular grammatical rules and the ability to identify words plus their meanings. This highly sensitive test is no longer sold or conducted to individuals, but only to government agencies, clinical psychologists and missionaries involved in frequent travels across the world.

Private schools have also embraced the use of these tests to recommend their foreign students to take particular courses. This test has also been widely used to diagnose students against foreign language learning disability. The term is used to describe individuals who score low or MLAT as compared to other subjects. These show a low aptitude for learning foreign languages unlike in other subjects. When patients show a better or normal aptitude for the rest of the subjects and a poor one in particular foreign languages; then they're described to have the disability. Their chances of learning a foreign language are then described as low.

Ability to learn patterns

The protagonists of this determiner suggest that the ability to decipher foreign languages does not depend at all on language-specific capabilities. However, they believe that individual's capability is dependent on their capability of learning language patterns. In a study conducted by Frost and others, some English students were tested on abilities to pick up some structures and sounds of Hebrew. They were also exposed to a test which tested their capability to pick up a pattern when stimulated by a visual stimulus.

The data collected from the earlier test were compared with that from the pattern test. Correlational studies shown that individuals who picked up most shapes after the visual stimulation could pick up more Hebrew phonetics. They concluded that statistical stimulation tests of up to 15minutes could predict people's ability of learning a foreign language.

Identifying foreign accents

Some people are extremely gifted with telling you where you come from just by listening to you throw a few words here and there. This gift is associated with ease in learning foreign languages. If you can identify the subtle differences between your language and that of other people, you can as well use the differences to match your language to the foreign ones. This is especially easy for close accents since you just need to copy-paste the differences into your accent.

After learning these few tricks, am still learning whether I'm fit to learn a new language. But I'm close!

About the author

Rick Riddle is an up-and-coming blogger and content manager at Smart Paper Help whose articles aim to help readers with self-development, career, entrepreneurship and digital marketing. Feel free to contact with Rick on twitter and LinkedIn.


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