The study was led by brain scientists at King's College London Institute of Psychiatry, in collaboration with Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the University of Barcelona. They were curious about what makes humans so uniquely adept at acquiring vocabulary. How is it that chimps max out at a vocabulary of around 100 words while humans can learn 30,000?
To answer that question, researchers used MRI imaging techniques to observe the brains of people being introduced to new vocabulary. They discovered "a pathway in the brain which is unique to humans" and "allows us to learn new words." In technical terms, what they saw was "a strong relationship between the ability to remember words and the structure of arcuate fasciculus, which connects two brain areas: the territory of Wernicke, related to auditory language decoding, and Broca's area, which coordinates the movements associated with speech and the language processing."
In other words, hearing words spoken aloud is how we learn. (Think: "Me, Tarzan. You, Jane.")
Led by The Daily Mail, the press has jumped on the implications of this new information, making much of study co-author Dr. Marco Catani's suggestion that, "Now we understand that this is how we learn new words, our concern is that children will have less vocabulary as much of their interaction is via screen, text and email rather than using their external prosthetic memory. This research reinforces the need for us to maintain the oral tradition of talking to our children."
We here at Vocabulary.com heartily support the maintenance of this oral tradition (as well as a continued emphasis on copious deep reading). But we'd also like to take this opportunity to respectfully point out that while playing our game, you can have your auditory processing cake and eat it too. Just listen to a word's pronunciation as you learn it and you'll get a full dose of "auditory language decoding" without having to set you tablet, phone, or other screened device aside.
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