By Monica Petroni, June 2015.
The ability to learn is a basic measure of intelligence – be it human or animal. No matter what makes us human, we should take into account that human beings’ aptitudes excel in learning anything.
When we learn we exercise the brain and the spirit, resulting in improvement on either one.
Among all manners of learning needs, one of the first we face is to develop speaking skills, or language.
Thus, what role does language have in our life?
Should we be able to live without language?
How would human lives be without it?
Would we be able to organize ideas?
Would we be able to plan things?
Would we have past and future?
Among all aptitudes humans are able to acquire, language is, by far, the most incredible and essential.
How important is language acquisition?
What impact does it make on the brain structure?
Does it influence psychological development?
Language is a human innate skill. We cannot find a linguistic organ in human bodies, but we cannot deny that it is an intrinsic part of human mental system. As a mental device, language is a potential attribute that needs extrinsic intervention to make it fully developed. This intervention is ultimately socialization, which depends on psychological and cognitive stimulations. As an innate skill, language acquisition is an unconscious process of internalization that stems from the experiences of the interaction between child and caretakers. Language acquisition, thus, unfolds during early childhood.
On the other hand, language learning is a process that evokes consciousness, basically structured by schooling and academics needs.
How important is language in psychological and social development within a lifetime?
According to Piaget and Vygotsky, language is a result of children’s adaptation to their immediate environment, more often family related, in which imitation takes place as a way to be accepted and settled and as means of communication. The result is the internalization of communication symbols. Children are very skillful when it comes to interpret adults’ intentions through face and body language. This is a silent internal language that will become verbalized as socialization becomes more and more necessary and children’s world broadens.
By the time cognitive development calls for representation, the symbolic communication, nurtured by socialization needs, will build up a more structured code, or collective signs, represented by language. At this moment, children may be growing into adolescents. Then, they will use language not only to communicate, but also to manipulate their will. Language awareness will probably coincide with the ego construction. Adolescence is the maturing phase of self-acknowledgement, when everyone finds his place into society. Language, in turn, is the tool we use to represent ourselves and to find our way into the wider new world. The social performance, at an early stage of ego’s assurance, may depend on how well we are able to expose our ideas. Thus, we shall appraise how important linguistic skills may become. No matter how linguistically talented a person is, his ultimate representation will cling on his early language acquisition capacities – which are directly related with the early stimulation of language use.
What, then, is the relation among language development, psychological development and brain structures?
On socialization and intelligence development processes basis, language acquisition carries along not only a psychic process of self-awareness and social roles individualization, but also a cognitive factor regarding the intelligence development in piagentian vision.
L. S. Vygotsky, who founded his social vision on the psychological process of human development, claimed that language intermediates social and individual awareness. According to this author, there is a psycho-intellectual process where language works as a means of collective and social communication, as inter-psychic function, whereas the individual awareness development works as an internal mental property, an intra-psychic device, whose function is to actively perceive external environment impressions as to receive information and convey orientation in order to regulate behaviour. This regulation results in the organization of consciousness, allowing the reflection on reality as concrete memory unfolds. Thus, we can infer that language, psyche and socialization are mutual processes of influence, being language the supporting channel of consciousness as an individualization process within social activity.
Neuroscience on early language acquisition is beginning to reveal the multiple brain systems that underlie the human language faculty.
Language, as human competence for communication purposes, has intrinsic neurological functions. It is performed in many parts of the brain, involving cortical and subcortical areas. Many scientists have been researching the relations among brain functions, language functions and psychological implications. Some of them are Luria, J. LeDoux and K. Benziger. They have found, for instance, that the superior frontal zones of left cortex can affect speech and are related with short-term memory, or functional memory, and problem-solving skills, while long-term memory is related with hypothalamus, which is responsible for meaning (semantics), performing together cognitive and psychological roles. This performance ultimately account for the ability of consciously analyse language and its sub-parts in order to manipulate, produce and convey meaning. This is metalinguistic ability, which is also important for second or foreign language learning, helping objectify languages’ structural rules and functions, which can be syntactic, phonological, morphological and pragmatic awareness.
What happens in our brains when we learn foreign or second languages?
Nowadays, Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans showed that specific parts of the brains of foreign language students are developed in size. These parts of the brain are the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex, just as it reinforces the structures already activated by mother language in early years of childhood (as shown above).
This recent brain-based research shows that people who speak more than one language fluently have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals. Other studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and the onset of dementia are diagnosed later for bilinguals than for monolinguals, meaning that knowing a second language can help people to stay cognitively healthy. Other than that, other researches as the one conducted by Edinburgh University points out that people who acquire their second language later in life, by having special needs and specific purposes, still have advantages over monolingual adults. It is certain that knowing another language is advantageous, regardless of when you learn it. The key ingredient, therefore, is to have a genuine interest or any special need to learn it.
Authors consulted: Jean Piaget,Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, Joseph Le Doux, Katherine Bezinger.
Other sources of contents consulted: http://www.theguardian.com; http://www.sciencedaily.com
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