"This task simulates, at an experimental level, how we acquire part of our vocabulary over the course of our lives, by discovering the meaning of new words in written contexts", explains Rodrguez-Fornells. "This kind of vocabulary acquisition based on verbal contexts is one of the most important mechanisms for learning new words during childhood and later as adults, because we are constantly learning new terms".
The participants had to learn 80 new nouns and 80 new verbs. By doing this, the brain imaging showed that new nouns primarily activate the left fusiform gyrus (the underside of the temporal lobe associated with visual and object processing), while the new verbs activated part of the left posterior medial temporal gyrus (associated with semantic and conceptual aspects) and the left inferior frontal gyrus (involved in processing grammar).
In addition, there was a positive correlation between activation of certain parts of the brain (the bilateral hippocampus and the bilateral putamen) and the efficiency of learning new nouns, but not new verbs.
"These results suggest that the same regions previously associated with the representation of the meaning of nouns and verbs are also associated with establishing correspondences between these meanings and new words, a process that is necessary for learning a second language", says Rodrguez-Fornells.
The researcher explains that the study cannot be used in practice for learning languages, "but it does touch on one of the most important aspects, which is the degree to which we use different information in verbal contexts, as well as possibly different neural networks, in learning different kinds of words with different grammatical functions".
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology