Some people jokingly say that there must be something in the water in Northern Europe that is why Scandinavians are fluent in English. Others say the skill could be in the blood or has something to do with brain chemistry. Is there really a part of the human DNA that could tell if a person could be a polyglot?
Actually there is a gene that had been identified by neurobiologists in the 1990s. The FOXP2 gene is said to be correlated to language, based on the study done on a British family that had three generations suffering from serious problems with speech. The 15 members of the family all had an inherited mutation of FOXP2. This particular gene was identified to have a primal role in the brain’s processes to produce language, both physically and cognitively.
Association with the ability to learn other languages
That discovery led to further research in the 20th century to compare the FOXP2 genes in humans and other animals to find out how people’s capacity for language developed. According to the new findings of University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) researchers, the mutated FOXP2 gene from the tested British family is connected to the ability to learn foreign languages. The discovery was made by Bharath Chandrasekaran, an assistant professor at Moody College of Communication of the UT Austin.
The research was published in the Journal of Neuroscience’s May edition. It involved the testing of 204 young people, who were instructed to listen to and categorize speech sounds that were unfamiliar to them. After testing, the participants gave samples of their saliva. Researchers then found that participants who had a certain version of the gene were more accurate and faster in performing their given task.
Specific approaches on how this could help foreign language learners were not proposed by the researchers, but from a linguistic point of view, it would be difficult for language teachers to focus on just one part of the brain. The research, at this stage, only points out that there is a gene that helps some people learn foreign languages faster than others.
At the moment, learning a new language means that the student must still use many parts of the brain, requiring the learner to utilize the brain’s cognitive processes, which include information ordering, perception, reasoning and memory, which are variable depending on the person.
While the genetic research keeps on going to find proof of the connection of language and biology in humans, language learners will have to continue persevering in their effort to learn a second or third language. It might still take more time for people to fully harness the power of genetics and use it in the most favorable way to learning new languages.