Jeanne Gallee wears a headset that measures brain activity. Two professors studied how resting-state brain activity works with language learning. (Justin A. Abernethy, University of Washington)

Jeanne Gallee wears a headset that measures brain activity. Two professors studied how resting-state brain activity works with language learning. (Justin A. Abernethy, University of Washington)

Your brain is divided into two hemispheres—left and right. Some activities are more controlled by one side than the other.

Your brain is divided into two hemispheres—left and right. Some activities are more controlled by one side than the other.

Students study Mandarin Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, Taiwan. Some adults learn different languages more quickly than others. (AP/Chiang Ying-ying)

Students study Mandarin Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, Taiwan. Some adults learn different languages more quickly than others. (AP/Chiang Ying-ying)

English language students from other countries learn to pronounce the “th” as in “My other brother sent the Christmas wreath” in New York on January 14, 1943. (AP/Bob Wands)

English language students from other countries learn to pronounce the “th” as in “My other brother sent the Christmas wreath” in New York on January 14, 1943. (AP/Bob Wands)

There are around 7,000 different languages in the world. Which would you like to learn?

There are around 7,000 different languages in the world. Which would you like to learn?

Stumped by Second Language

Posted: May 1, 2021

Learning a second language isn’t easy for many people—especially adults. New sounds seem odd. What did you say? Some adults think it’s fun to learn other languages. They may be few, but it’s true: Some adults are quick to learn new sounds and different letters. Two professors at the University of Washington wondered why it is easier for some than others. They did an experiment to find out.

First, Professor Brianna Yamasaki and Professor Chantel Prat asked 19 volunteers to close their eyes and relax. While they took a break, the professors got busy. They studied each resting brain.

What did they see? Lots of activity. Even when someone rests, the brain stays busy. Some of the participants’ brains were more active on the right side. That part of the brain is essential for learning languages. It helps people reason and problem-solve. Those two things are important in language acquisition (grasping understanding).

Next, each volunteer took French lessons for eight weeks. They learned to speak French at different speeds. What did the professors notice? Resting brain activity matters! They remembered the first part of the study. The people who had more right-side brain activity were also the fastest at learning French.

Professors Yamasaki and Prat concluded that the way our brains work matters when it comes to learning a second language. Does that mean that people who don’t have a “quick second language learning” brain can’t learn to speak in other national tongues? Of course not! There are other skills that are useful to language learners. The biggest helpers? A heart’s desire to learn and hard work.

Genesis 11:1 says, “Now the whole Earth had one language and the same words.” That was before people tried to build the Tower of Babel. They were working together to reach heaven on their own. So God confused their languages. Fast forward to today. There are around 7,000 different languages in the world! But remember the events of Pentecost in the New Testament book of Acts? The Holy Spirit gave God’s followers the gift of languages. What God scattered at Babel due to people’s pride, He begins to bring back together—so that all people can know His Son Jesus!