Learning different languages has always fascinated me. I think the ability to communicate across cultures is extremely valuable and amazing when successful. When you can speak to someone you don’t know if their own language, they become far more comfortable and are able to express themselves freely. When I was in Spain this past summer, I lived with my cousin and his family for two months, helping to take care of his children and learn Spanish. I kept running into roadblocks where I couldn’t understand people or they could not understand me. My cousin who was born and raised in the United States moved to Spain nine years ago. In college, he got a minor in spanish language, but that was the extent of his knowledge. But, while I was with my family there, everyone thought he was a native speaker because he was almost perfect at the language. When asking his about this, he said he always has had a natural act for languages and that they came easily to him. Other members in my family have claimed this and my grandmother speaks seven languages. Extremely jealous, I wonder why I didn’t get “the language gene” that everyone but me seemed to possess. The left part of your brain controls most of the communication works, so it is possible that genetic structure determine what part of your brain may “fire” more. Therefore, I hypothesize the possibility of a gene existing that gives people an ability to learn languages better. Here, the null hypothesis is that no gene exists and the alternative hypothesis is that yes, a gene does exist that affects your ability to learn languages.
From National Geographic News, they remark that no gene has yet to be discovered. However, your genetic coding can actually aid you in learning one language category rather than another. Conducting a study from the University of Edinburgh, researchers combined a list of data that compared peoples genes to their language they speak from various locations around the entire world. Genes can be tonal or non tonal and depending on where you are located, these genes can look different. This method was not experimental but rather observational. The differences between tonal and non-tonal languages is huge. In english, we use tones to indicate questions or exclamations or to give feeling to a sentence. On the contrary, in my other languages, words can be spelled the same but the depending on the tone, will mean extremely different things.
“If your ancestors were from Southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, where the native languages are nearly all tonal, you probably have the older versions of both genes. If your ancestors were all from Europe, where people mostly speak nontonal languages, you probably have the new version of Microcephalin and have a 50-50 chance of carrying the new ASPM gene”
Taking this information from page two of the Genes May Influence Language Learning, Study Suggests from National Geographic, it shows that certain genes are very concentrated in certain areas. It is crazy to think that a new gene, ASPM, evolved over people in Europe. Looking into this gene, I found from the website Genetic Home Reference that the scientists are unsure about the genes actual function, but it is suggested that this gene influences the development of the brain.
Looking for more results, I found a study from Neroscience News that was extremely specific to my frustration with not being able to learn a new language as an adult. In a randomized controlled experiment, researchers first test 204 adults ability to pick up on foreign sounds. After testing them, they took swabs from there cheeks in order to gather their genetic makeup. It was then discovered that those who picked up faster on language sounds because of their FOXP2 coding. Because learning languages involves what the article refers to as “general cognitive strategies”, this is dependent on the FOXP2 gene and the existence or absence of this gene helps to determine language learning ability. Therefore, it’s not that certain people can’t learn languages, it is that other people are just really good at learning them in comparison. Overall I do not think we can completely accept the alternative hypothesis because more information needs to be gathered. For now, the null hypothesis may stand even though an observational and experimental test insued. We need repeated experiments and more data.