Friday, January 23, 2009

Sound Patterns Boost Language Learning

Sound Patterns Boost Language Learning Study Shows

Exposure to the sound patterns of another language, even if it is initially meaningless, could hold the key to quickly picking up a foreign tongue, says a researcher.

Victoria University PhD graduate Paul Sulzberger made his discovery while trying to find out why many students dropped out in the early days of trying to learn a new language.

He believed his findings could revolutionize language teaching.
Listening to a language's sound patterns was critical as it set up structures in the brain required to learn the words, he found.

"Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words," he said.

"Neural tissue required to learn and understand a new language will develop automatically from simple exposure to the language - which is how babies learn their first language."

He was interested in what made it so difficult to learn foreign words when we were constantly learning new ones in our native language. He found the answer in the way the brain developed neural structures when hearing new combinations of sounds.

"When we are trying to learn new foreign words we are faced with sounds for which we may have absolutely no neural representation.”

"A student trying to learn a foreign language may have few pre-existing neural structures to build on in order to remember the words."

Extending exposure to foreign languages had been made easier by globalization and new technology.

Listening to songs, movies and even foreign news reports on the internet were all easy ways to expose the brain to foreign language sounds, Dr Sulzberger said.


Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, prolific writer, author and public speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 100 countries. Get your FREE E-book, "If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.


Lucy said...

This is fascinating, indeed. Neural patterns can also explain the greater facility for learners who already speak a second language, to learn an additional one.

It's therefore interesting to note that most people who have a positive experience learning a second language go on to learn additional ones with more confidence and ease. Very informative, thanks.

Ric Morris said...

I always tell my students 'listen to the radio or watch a movie in English - it doesn't matter if you don't understand'. It's nice to have confirmation of this; after all, children listen for two years before starting to speak.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the research done by a contemporary liguist such as Dr. Sulzberger; it's been really enlightening for my dissertation on Listening. It confirms that I've been on the right making my students listen to English as much s they can. Thank you Dr. Sulzberger!

The Bent Branch said...

Sulzberger's research is interesting, and he is by no means the first language instructor to come to this conclusion.
For example, the huge Latinum audio project for teaching Classical Latin through extensive audio exposure ( ) was set up in response to earlier research into the importance of audio for acquiring grammatical patterns subconsciously, irrespective of meaning.

This goes back to Chomsky's famous "colourless green ideas sleep furiously" - that grammatical information can be encoded in sentences without meaning.