genetics and learning a second language

Are Genetics the Key to Language Learning?

genetics and learning a second language

Genetics can determine your physical appearance, your health outlook, and even some of your personality traits.

And now, new research is confirming that your ability to learn a second language may also be predetermined.

The newest study, from the University of Washington, followed Chinese international students taking a 3-week English immersion course. The researchers took brain scans throughout the course, and saw some interesting changes:

The brain scans suggest that within a day of the immersive English training, white matter had already begun to change. Foreign language exposure increased the connectivity of the brain’s language circuitry in enrolled students compared with students who were not enrolled in the language class. The increase went up over the course of the three-week training, and then reversed after the training ended.

From there, the researchers suspected that each student’s unique genotype might be related to how much white matter changed.

And guess what?

They were right. Two specific genes were linked to greater increases, and a third type didn’t show any changes. Moreover, the differences accounted for 46 percent of total variance in the students’ final class scores.

So, what’s the takeaway?

Should you blame your parents if you’re not passing Spanish class?

Not quite.

As scientists learn more about our brains and how they work, it’s worth paying attention to. And it’s even more proof that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Mastery of any subject — whether it’s learning a language, learning how to play an instrument, or even learning how to cook — requires an understanding of things like your learning style and what your ultimate goals are.

It’s also why we’re passionate about helping you find fantastic tutors who know how to customize your lesson plans and help you reach those goals.

So while we wait for more research and studies, why not give it a try? Find a tutor in your area or online, and get started today with learning a second language.

Good luck! 

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1 reply
  1. Peter Rettig
    Peter Rettig says:

    While this research may be a relief to those who always thought that they didn’t have the “language gene”, it does not tell us (yet) what the best way is to compensate for any such gene deficiency.
    Also, I wonder what differences early childhood exposure to another language/dialect may have had on the Chinese students’ “white matter” changes.
    Fascinating stuff for sure!


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