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Our Brains’ Unlimited Abilities Inspire Us with a Better Way for Learning

By: Inas Essa

Learning is not an easy process; it has many entangled ways that have been tested and agreed upon that they could generate the best results. Although learning methods have been depending on certain abilities of the brain that scientists believe guarantee us a better understanding, new research has added another way that could be helpful and support new vocabulary learning.


Learning by Doing

Learning a new language takes time and effort. While learning techniques have been mainly dependent on listening (serves as audio method) and watching videos (serves as visual method), the new study has highlighted the important role of performing gestures in learning, as the brain unfolds one of its unexplored mechanisms.

In the new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that the brain’s motor cortex, which is known to control the body's voluntary movements and other perceptual and cognitive functions, can help learn foreign vocabulary more quickly through translating foreign language words into one's native language.

In this study, researchers investigated the hypothesis: can the motor be instrumental for translating foreign language vocabulary? To examine that, they designed training in which participants of the study learned foreign language words by performing semantically related gestures over four days of training. After the training, the participants heard the words that they had learned and were asked to translate them into their native tongue.

To measure the results and how the motor cortex works during the process, researchers used a neuroscience technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in which magnetic pulses stimulate specific brain areas. Although there was no significant change in the translation process in the control group with whom there was no interference with motor cortex processing (sensory enrichment), researchers found that this interference slowed down the translation of words learned with gestures (sensorimotor enrichment).

"Interestingly, the effect occurred for both concrete words, such as violin, and abstract words, such as democracy. Taken together, the findings suggest that our memory for recently-learned foreign language words depends on the sensorimotor context in which the words were experienced during learning," explains first author Brian Mathias.


The Motor System and Vocabulary Learning

Results of the study have highlighted how the motor cortex contributes to foreign language vocabulary translation after a brief period of gesture-based training. Also, they suggest that learning techniques that involve the performance of gestures instead of simple audio or visual information can benefit learners more and could be a valuable tool for learning new words in a foreign language more quickly.

"Many often-used teachings methods for learning new foreign language vocabulary rely on only audio or visual information, such as studying written word lists. Our findings shed light on why learning techniques that integrate the body's motor system typically outperform these other learning strategies," adds Mathias.




Motor Cortex