Norway: A new study at NTNU University in Trondheim suggests that a good short-term memory is probably the most important component for learning both native and foreign languages. Short-term memory, often called "working memory" depends largely on our genes.
NTNU researchers also found close correlation between the learning of the mother language and foreign language or second language.
Short Memory is perhaps the most important factor for learning the mother tongue and foreign languages, says NTNU researchers who tested Norwegian school children's language skills.
The research group at NTNU has tested the language skills of hundred school children, a group from a small rural school and a group from a big city . They were tested in Norwegian and English, while researchers tested their working memory.
Tests were conducted orally to avoid incorrect results from various earlier writing skills.
- Our language tests of nearly a hundred children showed a clear statistical relationship between linguistic competence and well-functioning working memory. The relationship between good language and good working memory was clear. It applies to all individual tests performed as a whole, says NTNU professor, Mila Vulchanova, who led the study to SINTEF and NTNU research magazine Gemini
The traditional theories of language and cognitive science suggest that children learn languages regardless of cognitive functions such as perception, spatial and working memory: Children need not learn the language as such. It just comes "naturally".
- Our results contradict this. Working memory greatly affects language learning and language skills. Working memory is important not only to learn new words, but for general language skills such as grammar. Working memory is related to the ability to absorb information and process, analyze and store linguistic input and other input, says Vulchanova.
Vulchanova believes that the results of the study showed that working memory is one of the most important biological factors in language development in children and the findings may affect the way we look at school performance and learning outcomes of students.
NTNU researchers also found close correlation between the learning of the mother tongue and foreign language or second language. This is an important finding because the language sciences has a tradition to say that learning mother language is qualitatively different than learning a foreign language.
- We now believe, first, that there is a connection between language development and working memory capacity. Probably there are some common cognitive mechanisms that support the ability to learn both the language and the second language, says Vulchanova. Vulchanova explain that to learn a language, a memory storage in the brain is continuously maintained. This occurs when the brain processes new linguistic information in the form of words and phrases with information that is already stored from before.
- This is not so easy for those with poor short-memory. But it is not hopeless. It is possible to train working memory, but it is not easy - especially since the capacity of working memory is hereditary. But games with words, and to say numbers in reverse order, are easy and good ways to train working memory, says Vulchanova.
Children use working memory to connect between images and the brain processes these memories in memory slots. The slots spread out in several directions as the network between nerve cells in the brain, transmitted via synapses, are becoming tighter. When a child is memorizing a word, the word goes via another word or through new paths in what we call association. If the child uses often the language, the nerve cells will connect together again and the data will be sent I a loop. This is why repetition often makes it "sits better".
- Children take this process quite easy. They have biological factors on their side. Children's flexible brain is their strength. They have all the preconditions for learning and building networks in the brain. The denser the network, the more skills are stored Vulchanova says.
Vulchanova explains that in order to learn a language, children must constantly make verbal input, process and store the information they receive. To make the most efficient storage of new words is important that children are reflecting and working with words to find out things such as look up in the dictionary.
Vulchanova recommends short memory training using both computer software and hand writing.
- Handwriting and shaping the letters themselves, make language like material, literally palpable. Children enter the realm by using handwriting rather than on a PC where the keys are the same. When the child writes by hand, he read the picture of the word, how it's written while the brain sends signals to the hand that forms the word, she said.
Reading can also help connecting between written language (visual codes) and between words (sound and meaning) that are stored in the brain. Books are also important in stimulating the senses in a different way than a data file on your computer, adds Vulchanova.