Thursday, September 4, 2014

Failing at French? Research says don't try so hard.

Well, this might explain a lot: A team of neuroscientists at MIT have published a study that suggests that trying harder to learn a foreign language can actually impede progress(!) That's right, the slacker in the baseball cap slouching in his seat in the back of the class of French class who's not even bothering to conceal his earbuds may be absorbing more then you, the diligent concentrator in the front row.

The researchers theorize that this is because (and I'm broadly paraphrasing here) our adult brains, in trying to take in too much, miss the big picture. But if you let yourself get a little distracted during lessons, you pick up more.

This "less is more" theory is not new, and in fact I discuss it with one of its proponents, Elissa Newport, in my new book Flirting with French as well as in a recent op-ed in the Times, but this is the first time that scientists have tested the theory (using an artificial language) in a controlled environment.

For more details, there's a nice summary in Science Daily.

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