Neuroscience of Learning/Language Acquisition – Neurociência da Aprendizagem/Aquisição de Segunda Língua

Neurociência da Aprendizagem – texto em português

Last year I traveled all the way to Israel to meet Neuroscience expert Dr. Avi Karni at the University of Haifa. The reason? Quite simple: 1) my wife was going to present at a conference there; and 2) I had heard about Dr. Karni’s research on a TED talk given by Benny, the Irish Polyglot (check it out here:
Dr. Avi Karni

Imagine my excitement arriving on campus to interview Dr. Karni, who was kind enough to give me a few moments of his busy schedule. We talked about memory, second language acquisition and one of his papers that claimed there was no advantage for children in L2 acquisition when compared to adults! That goes against most teachers’ notion that there’s a “critical period”, as stated by Penfield and Roberts (1959) and popularized by Lenneberg (1967), in which humans can more easily acquire a second language. This period is childhood.

I then started to be even more interested in neuroscience and how we learn. I did a short online course with Dr. Brit Andreatta called Neuroscience of Learning and I designed my English Development Course around the framework of my new discoveries. Today, I just want to share a couple of findings and invite you to think about such an important subject for every teacher, student, and educator.

  1. The critical period hypothesis has been widely refuted in different contexts and by different authors. This means that adults are equally capable of learning (languages or anything else) when compared to kids. In fact, there’s robust evidence showing that they can perform better, given the proper conditions (we’ll talk about them later).

Start with this and move on to Dr. Karni’s text (last link of this post): Singleton, David; Lengyel, Zsolt, eds. (1995). The age factor in second language acquisition: a critical look at the critical period hypothesis. Clevedon [England]: Philadelphia.

  1. The way most of our traditional classes are designed is not so conducive to learning. Research shows that expositive classes, where a teacher talks most of the time and students only listen and take notes, is not good for learning. Varying types of exposure, resources, platforms and students’ participation is what works best.

Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s video on breaking some education paradigms:
And how to flip your classroom:

  1. Learning styles are highly controversial and there’s no hard evidence that they really exist. As mentioned above, it is best to explore the same subject/content using different methods and resources. 

Watch this TED talk to get started:

  1. Too much homework is bad for learning. The adequate amount of time that students should spend on homework should not pass 2 hours daily. As it turns out, being a human and interacting with other humans, mainly friends and family members, are pretty essential for people to develop social skills and rest their minds well enough for learning to happen. What does work is distributed practice or spaced repetition. and this will help you here.

        5. Sitting still is bad for kids’ learning. Every class should have quiet and playful moments. Sitting still for too many minutes, or even hours, goes against children’s nature of moving to learn.

The NY Times published and excellent article on it:

That’s it for now. On this link you’ll be able to find some of the papers I read, more references, and more useful links.

Now, challenge yourself to rethink how you teach using these first principles of neuroscience and let me know how it went!

Penfield, W. , and Roberts, L. , Speech and Brain-Mechanisms (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1959
Lenneberg, EH.Biological Foundations of Language. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1967)

10 thoughts on “Neuroscience of Learning/Language Acquisition – Neurociência da Aprendizagem/Aquisição de Segunda Língua”

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  3. I really enjoyed your post. I have a strong interest in how the brain functions and how that relates to teaching. It is always surprising to me that education programs don’t focus more on the brain. It would be as if athletic trainers didn’t know much about how the body functions and what helps it to function better. I am a new blogger also and am finding it to be a wonderful way to spend more time organizing my thoughts on teaching and learning.

    1. I’m glad you liked it, Kia. Unfortunately, you’re right. Educators and teachers do not prioritize implementing systems that are proven to work better based on scientific evidence. I believe we need to try to learn as much as we can on our own and help spread the news. Good luck with your new blog!

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