Dec 15, 2010

Can't learn a foreign language? Not true, say scientists

All one needs to do is listen to a word 160 times over that period, found Cambridge neuroscientists.

After that the brain will have formed a whole new network of neurons specifically tasked with remembering that word.
The process happens far quicker than previously thought, they found.
Dr Yury Shtyrov and his team made the discovery after placing electrodes on the heads of 16 healthy volunteers to monitor their brain activity.
First they recorded the pulses generated when they listened to a familiar word. Then the volunteers were made to listen to a made-up word, over and over again.

Initially the brain had to work hard to recognise the new word. But after 160 repetitions over 14 minutes, the new memory traces were "virtually indistinguishable" from those of the already familiar word, said Dr Shtyrov.
He said: "What this suggests is that practising language is important. Every little helps.

"Just perception - listening - is helpful. Our volunteers didn't repeat the words."

Getting them to repeat the words would "probably extend the new neural networks" to the part of the brain tasked with speech, he said.

However, he and colleagues at the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit developed the approach, called constraint-induced aphasia therapy (CIAT), not to help tourists learn French, but to help stroke patients regain their speech.

He said: "This research suggests that faster rehabilitation may be possible if treatments for people with brain damage, such as stroke patients, target the brain’s ability to rapidly create these memory traces."

The next step was to test the theory in stroke patients, he added.

The research is published today (WED) in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Read more at The Telegraph

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