Parlez! (Speak!)

When learning another language,  what better way to practice than to speak out loud? I’m sure a number of foreign language lessons begin with the basics of meet-and-greet phrases, numbers and letters. I don’t remember it word for word but my basic French introduction probably went something like this:

<<Bonjour, comment allez vous? Je m’appelle Jen. J’ai dix-neuf ans et j’aime danser.>>

(Hello, how are you? My name is Jen. I’m 19 and I like to dance)

Of course, back then <<j’avais quatorze ans>> (I was 14) and my accent was absolutely horrible. This being my second learned language at such a later age, my brain was having a bit of difficulty processing everything–even now, it takes me quite some time to write out analytical French papers on film remakes.

But what makes language learning so difficult past childhood? As you may or may not know, the areas in the brain associated with language are called Broca and Wernicke’s area. Located in the left hemisphere (which is also responsible for more logical and analytical thinking), these areas help us produce  language (Broca’s area) and process language (Wernicke’s area). According to several studies using fMRI, such as one done by Hirsch and her colleagues at Cornell University, there was a separation between first and second language activity in Broca’s area but very little separation of the two in Wernicke’s area. This suggests that people who learn a language later in life may not have difficulty in comprehending words but may struggle with forming words and phrases.

It all makes sense now doesn’t it? I often find myself having no problem listening and understanding my French professors but when it comes to answering questions, I often stumble and find it difficult to say what I want. It is no wonder why you start off learning a language by practicing simple phrases. The more verbal practice you get, the better a speaker you become!

So for those you taking intro to French, Spanish, German, or Japanese who really want to become fluent one day, practice out loud! Talk, think, text even blog in your language of choice and don’t be afraid to add the accent either!

Just make sure you don’t end up like Joey from Friends:

à la prochaine!

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2 comments on “Parlez! (Speak!)

  1. miomaii says:

    I’ve also heard when I was in high school that you use different parts of your brain depending on what language you are speaking. That’s so interesting!
    I grew up speaking both French and Japanese (I speak Japanese with my mom and French with my dad), so they are both my first languages, if that makes any sense. I went to school in French my entire life, but I count in Japanese. I often think and dream in Japanese, but now that I am in College in an English speaking environment, I think more in French. It’s so weird…

  2. That’s amazing that you speak both French and Japanese fluently! I wonder if the same spot of Wernicke’s and Broca’s area would be stimulated when you spoke either of your first languages. It’s also interesting that, although your education was dominantly French, you still dream and think in Japanese. I’d love to see an fMRI of your brain!

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