Thursday, 30 October 2014

Sex, drugs and... words?

No, I did not come up with that title in hopes of attracting attention. No, those are not three of my favourite things... except if you think of chocolate as a drug and, well, books are made of words... so they actually are three of my favourite things!

I came across this article, which, referring to this study, suggests that learning new words activates not only the language areas in our brain but also the same reward areas as do “pleasurable activities”, such as, say, sex or eating chocolate. The conclusions seem to be rather preliminary yet, but it is an interesting idea. We might learn languages because we enjoy it! Emotions might play a significant role in language acquisition and in our motivation to learn languages, whether we're talking about people learning a foreign language or of children learning their first language.

Someone has been playing with words
The researches measured the brain activity while the participants completed two tasks: gambling and learning a new word by inferring its meaning from context. Earning money while gambling and learning a new word by inference produced the same brain activity. This makes me wonder – would learning a word from a dictionary or from a vocabulary list be equally pleasurable or is the process of inferring a word from context (the aha! moment; the epiphany) needed to produce the increase in brain activity? If it is indeed inference that causes the “pleasure” of learning a new word, it would certainly suggest that this method of vocabulary learning would be superior to most other methods (such as memorising vocabulary lists).

However, I'm afraid more proof is needed before I replace my nightly chocolate fix with language classes... ;)

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