If you are thinking about learning a foreign language, you are probably trying to decide which language you want to learn. You may even be asking “What is the best language to learn?”.
However, the question about which is the best language to learn may not be the right one. The real issue is how you use your brain to remember and learn anything, including new languages. People often think that to learn a language, you must have an excellent memory. When actually, the key is in understanding how your memory works.
The Best Language Is The One That Works With Your Memory Systems
Professor Michael Ullman of the neuroscience department at Georgetown University is an expert on how people learn languages. He has published several papers about the role of memory in the acquisition of first and second languages.
Proper Memory Usage Leads to Language Acquisition
His theory says that, procedural memory helps us learn grammar and syntax, and is rooted in the frontal-basal ganglia structure of the brain. Declarative memory is in the temporal lobe of the brain and governs how we remember words, facts and events. The two memory systems work in a see-saw manner, and sometimes compete. When one is in dysfunction, the other may become stronger.
However, when learning a second language, we rely more on declarative memory to learn grammar rules and structure rather just using procedural memory. In other words, when learning another language we are like parrots that copy the sounds we hear from native speakers.
Learning Grammar With Music
Since music engages more areas of the brain than language, listening to and repeating song lyrics can help us learn grammar. Also we tend to remember musical tunes better than memorized lists of words, so the theory about the roles of declarative and procedural memory in language learning holds true.
This doesn’t mean that we are able to completely learn a language without learning grammar and structure, but it shows that listening and repeating sounds serves a real purpose in how we can learn the syntax and structure of a language.
Georgetown Brain Language Lab
If you’d like more in-depth explanations of the declarative/procedural model, you can download his articles here:
- A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective on Second Language Acquisition
- The Neural Basis of Lexicon and Grammar in First and Second Language
A Few Things To Consider
Before you decide which is the best language to learn, consider evaluating how you personally think and remember things. Perhaps you can make changes to the way you study and capture information to improve your language learning experience.
Photo by: TZA