To the brain, reading computer code is not the same as reading language

Reading code activates a general-purpose brain network, but not language-processing centers.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash
In some ways, learning to program a computer is similar to learning a new language.
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5 facts about positive affect for 2021

After the unrelenting negativity of 2020, we may need a refresher on the benefits of a positive affect.

Credit: Antonioguillem / Adobe Stock
  • 2021 won't reset the ills of 2020, but for many it's become a symbol of a fresh start.
  • A positive affect is contagious, correlates with better health, and leads to more supportive social connections.
  • However, positivity must be balanced with realism if it is to improve our well-being.
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    Become fluent in another language with 50% off a lifetime Babbel subscription

    The top-grossing language-learning app on the market just got a major discount.

    • After just one month of learning, many Babbel users became conversational in a new language.
    • A lifetime subscription to Babbel provides users with the ability to learn 14 different languages whenever they want.
    • Babbel is the top-grossing language-learning app on the market.
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    Adult language-learning changes how the brain’s hemispheres function

    It's never too late to learn a new language. Just don't count on speaking French like a Parisian.

    Credit: Teeradej via Adobe Stock
    • Language processing has long been thought to occur primarily in the left hemisphere of the brain.
    • A new study used fMRI on groups of adults to examine how the brain's left and right hemispheres contribute to learning a new language.
    • The results showed that, as the participants progressed, they began to use more of their right hemisphere, but only for some aspects of language processing.

    Learning a new language as an adult changes how the brain's hemispheres contribute to language processing, according to a new study.

    The brain's left and right hemispheres are generally specialized to perform different tasks. The left hemisphere has long been thought to handle language processing, particularly in regions like Broca's area and Wernicke's area.

    But the right hemisphere also plays a role. For example, stroke victims with damage to their left hemisphere have been able to (partially) recover language abilities after right-hemisphere regions reorganized themselves to compensate for the injury.

    Illustration of left and right brain hemispheres

    Credit: Chickensaresocute via Wikipedia Commons

    So, is the left hemisphere indeed hard-wired for language? In terms of learning a new language later in life, what roles do the hemispheres play, and how does neuroplasticity factor in?

    The new study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, explored these questions by conducting fMRI on groups of adults as they read, listened to, and spoke both their native language and a new language. In the early stages, the fMRI results looked similar for the native and new languages.

    As learning progressed, however, the participants increasingly employed regions from the brain's right hemisphere. But this was only true for reading comprehension and, to a lesser extent, speech comprehension of the new language. Speaking the new language remained a left-dominant (or left-lateralized) task.

    The results suggest neuroplasticity for speech production is far more limited, which may explain why adults have a harder time speaking a new language, though they can learn to read and comprehend one relatively easy. It also suggests the brain's left hemisphere is hard-wired for speech production.

    Benefits of learning a new language later in life

    Neuroplasticity does gradually decrease with age, and if you're an adult picking up a new language you may never become a totally fluent speaker. Still, learning a new language later in life is totally possible. In addition to broadening your career options and opportunities to explore other cultures, studies suggest that learning a second (or third) language can help:

    Learn a new language—super fast. Here’s how. | Steve Kaufmann | Big Think

    This app will quickly turn any online text into speech

    If you'd rather listen than read, Speechify is for you.

    • Many people prefer to learn by listening to audio rather than reading text.
    • Speechify is a text-to-speech audio reader that turns any reading material into interactive audiobooks.
    • Speechify's founder created the app to help deal with learning challenges as a dyslexic college student.
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