Researchers predict capacity to learn language based on brain anatomy

Based on the size of Heschl’s Gyrus (HG), a brain structure that typically accounts for no more than 0.2 percent of entire brain volume, the researchers found they could predict — even before exposing study participants to an invented language — which participants would be more successful in learning 18 words in the “pseudo” language. [...] According to Warrier, Northwestern research professor of communication sciences and disorders, the researchers were surprised to find the HG important in second language learning. “The HG, which contains the primary region of the auditory cortex, is typically associated with handling the basic building blocks of sound — whether the pitch of a sound is going up or down, where sounds come from and how loud a sound is — and not associated with speech per se,” she said. [...] In a behavioral study, Wong’s group found that musical training started at an early age contributed to more successful spoken foreign-language learning. The study participants with musical experience also were found to be better at identifying pitch patterns before training.