Language lessons: Youíre smarter than you think
Ottawa Citizen

This week the Citizen published a story on a nifty little study by Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist from York University. Being fluent in two languages for most of your life helps keep your mind sharp in old age, she found.

Now thereís a happy sequel. Learning that second language isnít as taxing on your brain as psychologists had feared.

The University of Washington tested first-year students learning French for the first time. After just a few hours of instruction, the students could tell the difference between real French words and fake ones about half the time, based on lessons so far.

But their subconscious brains were doing better. Analysis of brainwaves showed the kidsí brains were recognizing the real and the pseudo-French all the time. And over just a few weeks of non-intensive lessons, the brainwave patterns (indicating when a real word is recognized) improved noticeably.

The conclusion: Even though these students were rank amateurs at French, their brains were unconsciously picking up a lot of words, fast. Not grammar, but words. "We know a lot more about our first language than we are consciously aware of. Our results suggest that this is true for a second language too," Washington psychologist Lee Osterhout said.

A postscript:

Headline of the week honours go to McGill University for this announcement

"Why men with high levels of anger and low anger control should not drink alcohol"

They did a scientific study. Seems these guys get riled up and punchy. Or, in science-speak: "Individuals with high levels of trait anger, along with low levels of anger control, are likely to commit alcohol-related aggression."

Funny they didnít just ask a bartender. Or any womenís shelter.

© Ottawa Citizen 2004