Language and the Cerebellum

Is Your Inability to Learn a New Language Your Fault or Are You Cerebellumly Challenged?

Years ago baby experts told everyone it’s good to teach your child a second language, and start early too. Most of that is true but now researchers know that when a child has a firm grasp on a base language first and then learns a second language, the child’s vocabulary in both languages are better.

Have you ever been impressed while listening to someone else speak a foreign language? I have and I often thought, “I wish I could do that.” A few years later, some college classes and trips, well I picked up Spanish. My parents also spoke learned languages aside from English, my mother learned French and my father was a military man, he spent a lot of time in Turkey so he picked up the language. Have you ever heard someone say, “there’s no way I can learn a foreign language?” It might be true!

Different parts of the brain control different parts of what we all do. From seeing a butterfly zip through your back yard noticing it’s vibrant colors, to smelling all the flowers around you and feeling the warm sunshine on your body, your brain of course makes all of that possible as it does with your ability to learn a new language. Researchers have studied the area’s that control our language on folks who speak one language compared to those who speak a dozen or more, apparently some people can learn and some can’t.

Had I have known interesting things like that in grade school, I could’ve gotten away with a lot more just “acting” stupid because I could have blamed it on my brain!

All jokes aside, it is really interesting, we’ve always known that our brain is in control but sometimes it’s really hard to associate or give our brain credit for in all, controlling us. In one of my language classes there was one guy, who despite his whole hearted attempts just could not learn the language. He probably tried harder than anyone else! He ended up joining the services and now he’s an airplane mechanic……… no one said he was stupid, he just couldn’t learn Spanish but I’m sure I can’t learn how to work on an airplane because I’m just not good at mechanical workings. I can speak some jam up Spanish though!

There are two reasons why I’m not bad at learning Spanish. One is that I dose up on a drug called Optimind – it’s a bit pricey but it promotes concentration, focus, and memory – sound like it might help you learn a language? Damn spiffy! Reason number dos is that I have a Mexican girlfriend. I’m not sure she’s teaching me the most useful words though…

It just amazes me how our brain controls our language, I don’t want to get too technical but the cerebellum is one massive control switch, which most thought before wasn’t as astounding as other parts of the brain. Technically speaking the cerebellum is a part of the hindbrain, which is basically an extension of the spinal cord. It is said to control finely coordinated movements and store information from learned associations involving any type of movement.

A good example would be your ability to close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with the tip of your pointer finger. If anyone asks you to do that, it could be part of a field sobriety test! Alcohol really jiggles up the cerebellum and fogs your ability to some of the most common of movements. However recent work on studying the functions of the brain have come up with some new ways to think about what the various parts of the brain can do. One perspective, coordinated movements could be thought of as simple motor functioning but what about sequencing and timing?

When speaking we sequence a series of words, we even time them when singing or even while reading. Our mind shows us commas, periods, exclamation marks, questions marks and our brain takes in that information, in turn what comes out of our mouth is a product of how well our parts of the brain including the cerebellum react. If something is broken, so to speak, with our sequencing of words then stuttering could be an end result. There’s no doubting that some people have a larger area in the brain for languages than others but this can be looked at in several ways and not just in comparison to learning languages. A friend of mine is a poet, she can come up with a verse in a flat minute, while I … I just can’t do it!

Maybe one day researchers will find some kind of a natural who knows what, that most of us lack or have a smaller supply that could better explain why some people’s brains just do more than others. Then it would be cool if they could mass manufacture it so the rest of us who want to learn languages or write a poetic verse. The mysteries of the brain, the cerebellum or of the great deep blue sea may never be discovered in our lifetimes, but in the mean time it’s fun to explore!