Prof. makes new discovery about brain hemispheres

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 26, 2011)

The right side of the brain reacts when hearing difficult English words, while the left side reacts to easier terms, according to a recent study conducted on about 500 primary school students published in an online U.S. journal.

The findings, made by a group of researchers led by Tokyo Metropolitan University Prof. Hiroko Hagiwara, show the possibility that the brain’s focus shifts from right to left as children learn English.

Because the brain’s right hemisphere is said to analyze rhythm and the dynamics of sound, the findings may help develop effective methods for teaching foreign languages.

This could mean focusing on word sounds instead of meaning during the early stages of foreign language development.

Hagiwara monitored the brain activity of first to fifth grade students across Japan as they recited English words ranging from easy to difficult.

When reciting difficult words such as “abash” or “nadir,” the brain’s right hemisphere, known as the sypramarginal gyrus, was active.

The left side, known as the angular gyrus, reacted when the students learned easier words such as “brother” or “picture.”

Hagiwara said when learning a new foreign language, words are first characterized as a type of sound.

However, as people continue their studies, their brains interprets words as language–with particular meanings–just as they do in Japanese.

The brain’s left side has long been associated with language acquisition and vocabulary.

However, less was known about how the brain works when a child studies foreign languages.

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