Ever met someone that learns subjects like Spanish and algebra with no complications- while you struggle with learning the difference between the imperfect and preterite? Well, I have. I have been a victim of the inability to learn the language Spanish for 11 years now. Some would say I’m suffering from a “Foreign Language Learning Disability”. The first to use this term was Professor Richard L. Sparks, he spent many years researching the validity of this disability. He even published an article, Journal of Learning Disability, but in that he stated that the “Foreign Language Learning Disability” was premature because of the lack of evidence to support it. So now I know I’m not the first person to question, why do some people learn new languages easily and some don’t?
Alternative Hypothesis: People who can’t learn a foreign language have a learning disability
Null Hypothesis: People who can’t learn a foreign language don’t have a disability, they just need to put in more effort to learning the material
How we Learn Languages
Remember talking about classical conditioning in your freshman Psych 100 class? That usually still applies with how most human learn things. Mammals, especially when young, are like sponges. They soak up a ton of knowledge and apply it the same way they learned it. You would think that learning a foreign language would come the same way as any other thing you learn. You learn it, study it, and then know it. That’s not the case for everyone. To some, Spanish comes very easily.
The cerebrum is what controls our thinking, reading, and learning. It’s the outermost and largest part of the brain. The two half, left and right, control the opposite sides of our body, meaning, the left side controls the right and the right side controls the left. This is also where our lobes are located. The frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes have different functions but once all these parts are put together with the spinal cortex, this makes the brain the central nervous system.
Leonore Ganschow, EdD, is an associate professor for psychology at Miami University. He conducted a study comparing successful and non-successful foreign language college students. He measured their intelligence, foreign language aptitude, and native and oral written language. No significant differences were seen in the intelligence and reading comprehension but significant differences where found in the Morden Language Aptitude Test. The conclusion of the study was that students with a foreign language disability may have underlying native language problems, especially in the syntax and phonology. They are working towards being able to diagnose someone with Foreign Language Learning Disabilities.
Another study conducted by Dr. Kenneth Dinklage of Harvard University, was conducted by interviewing students to determine their anxiety level with learning a new language. He found that a number of the failing foreign language students had previously be diagnosed with a disability but have overcame it, and now that disability has re-surfaced in the foreign language class. The problem is related to some other learning disability, not lack of motivation.
Every person struggles in one subject, even if they get an A, it takes them more effort to learn things in certain classes. Learning foreign language happens to be more common subject to struggle in than others. Neither the alternative hypothesis or null hypothesis can be determined completely correct, but eventually after more tests are done on this topic, there will be a definite answer.