You are what you speak (or sign)

UCSD Department of Linguistics

“You are what you speak (or sign): Effects of language learning on brain”

A talk by Dr. Robert Kluender

Professor of Linguistics at UCSD

Received wisdom about learning a language is often wrong: people think that children are better language learners than adults, that you’re fine learning a language before puberty but basically doomed afterwards, and that you can never acquire a native-sounding accent as an adult learner — even though none of these things is true.

While it is still true that the earlier you are exposed to a language, the better off you will be, we now also know that the adult brain is a lot more flexible (“plastic”) than we used to think it was. If you expose the brain to systematic input (e.g. language) on a regular basis (e.g. in a language class, on the internet, or reading on your own), your brain not only soaks it up, but literally incorporates this input into its own internal anatomical and physiological structure.

Consequently, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that your brain knows things about the language you are learning before you are even aware of it — you may not be able to say which answer is correct on a test, but your brain can, and does. Even more remarkably, your brain learns things about language that your teachers and instructional materials never even mention.

The moral of this story is that exposing yourself to as much language input as you can, in whatever form you can get it, is not only the best but actually the only way to help your brain help you learn a language. That means it’s imperative that you go to class (and not just because it’s required) and make liberal and consistent use of media (including reading) outside of class to get as much input as you can in the language you are learning.

TUESDAY MAY 14th, 2013 – 6:00-7:30 PM


Note: This talk is directed to students currently enrolled in language classes in the UCSD Linguistics Langauge Program. However, everyone is welcome to attend.