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  • Zdjęcie autoraPatrycja Baracco

THE 21ST CENTURY LANGUAGE LEARNING: cognitive neuroscience in individualised language teaching

Zaktualizowano: 5 lis 2021

As agreed by many scholars, ‘language learning is one of the mysteries of human cognition’ (Opitz & Friederici, 2004, p.1). Many approaches to language learning have appeared throughout the history of ELT in an attempt to provide the best solutions for effective language learning. These were compatible with the times in which they were created and the requirements to be met at the time, and they were aligned with the intellectual trends and technology available to date (Richards & Rodgers, 1986). A similar case can be observed nowadays.

We have entered the breakthrough era of exploring human cognition – the brain era of neuroscience. Although neuroscience, ‘the scientific study of the nervous system’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) as well as its mechanisms and correlations, dates back to ancient Egypt (Mohammed, 2008), the most remarkable development of modern neuroscience has been observed since the mid-twentieth century, mainly due to the recent technological capacity to monitor the brain at work. As scientists describe it, ‘there is a revolution occurring in brain science’ (Arden, 2010, p.1) with the amount of neuroscientific research data doubling every year (Kurzweil, 2010). This record is possible due to the invention of tools enabling brain scanning: fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imagining), EEG (electroencephalography) and MEG (magnetoencephalography). It is worth mentioning here that modern neuroscientific research has been confronted with harsh criticism deflating the arguments of fMRI research accuracy and the conclusions drawn on the basis of its results.

Parallel to the advancement of neuroscience, the blooming of humanism can be observed, with its focus on human emotions as the highest authority of current civilization and the educational aim of enabling individuals to think for themselves (Harari, 2016). Moreover, the sphere of emotions has been redefined and the perception of emotion limited to its evolutionary role of a biochemical algorithm, calculated in the brain to accelerate decision making processes. As for the brain itself, it is currently believed to have been created for survival (Harari, 2016), according to neuroscientist, Professor Ohme, ‘the brain was created not for intellectual thinking, but for the emotional feeling of signals from the body and from the environment’ (2017, p.1057). These quotations demonstrate that the theory of the brain (thus cognition) and feelings (emotion) concur in modern science.

According to the hypothesis that teaching methods reflect the times when they are created, modern research in SLA, as well as recent ELT strategies seem to reflect the abovementioned contemporary trends focused on exploration of the brain and emotions as well as, or rather specifically, the interconnections between those two.

The SLA inclinations towards the study of the brain and emotion are represented by the cognitive neuroscience of SLA and neurolinguistics as well as the increasing interest in the theories of affectivity, which has been recently perceived as a major factor in language learning (Gabryś-Barker, 2013) – parallel to emotions, as mentioned before, being perceived as paramount in the humanistic world. In recent years, brain-scanning studies have investigated the cognitive processes in the brain when learning languages and studies on affectivity have explored the influence of negative as well as positive emotions on language cognition.

The direct link between cognitive neuroscience in SLA and affectivity seems evident. Neuroscience analyses the influence of positive and negative emotions on learning. It detects the release of neurotransmitters affecting parts of the brain, either facilitating or blocking the cognitive functions of the brain. All these findings have provoked the intensive search for an optimal brain learning state, including the crucial cognitive states for learning languages.

Based on these studies, new tendencies in modern learning have emerged, collectively and informally called ‘brain-friendly’ approaches to learning and teaching, with an equivalent formal scientific notion of neuroeducation having developed parallel to it. Interestingly, the term ‘brain-friendliness’ connotes both tendencies of neuroscience (‘brain’) and affectivity (‘friendly’). Its impact on SLA materialized in a method created by Rachel Paling in 2012, called Neurolanguage Coaching. Strikingly again, the name resembles the same correlation between neuroscience (‘Neurolanguage’, apparently combining the notions of neuroscience and linguistics) and affectivity (‘Coaching’ with all its psychological principles).

In the light of the recent theories described above and concerning the neuroscience findings on SLA, majorly related to affectivity, I aim to further examine the effectiveness of Neurolanguage Coaching and the selection of three related ‘brain-friendly’ strategies for language learning.

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