Child first language and adult second language are both tied to general-purpose learning systems

Research Highlight

How our brains learn language

© JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty

© JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty

Language learning happens in ancient brain circuits that humans share with other animals. 

The finding, from a meta-analysis of 16 studies that examined how children learn a first language and how adults absorb a second one, upends the conventional wisdom that language centres in the human brain are specifically dedicated for that purpose.

Rather, they indicate that our lexical abilities are tied to general-purpose brain systems that are also involved in mundane tasks such as remembering a shopping list or learning to ride a bicycle. These brain areas have simply been co-opted for language acquisition in humans.

The study — from a three-person team that included a Deakin University psychologist — suggest that drugs and behavioural interventions known to promote learning and retention of other sorts of information may also help facilitate language learning for people with dyslexia, autism or other language disorders.

Supported content

  1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 15, 1487–1492 (2018). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1713975115
Institutions Share
Kent State University, United States of America (USA) 0.33
Deakin University, Australia 0.33
Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), United States of America (USA) 0.33