Listening Script Vocabulary
(Section 3: You will hear a conversation between a tutor and a student. The tutor is helping the student with a reading on language learning and genetics. First, you will have some time to look at questions 24 to 31 [20 seconds]. Listen carefully and answer questions 24 to 31.)
T: Right, Zara, as far as I remember, the plan was for you to start off the tutorial today with an overview of your reading on language learning and genetics. Is that right?
Z: Yes, I found a lot of useful information.
T: Great. Over to you, then. Students often say to me that they just don’t have the gift of picking up foreign languages. Is there any truth to that claim? What did you find out?
Z: Well, it’s easy to imagine that the aptitude for learning a new language exists somewhere beyond our control, perhaps in our blood or brain chemistry … or in the drinking water … But language teachers will explain to students that anyone can learn a foreign language, and that the skill comes from nurture and not nature.
T: But does biology play any role at all? Is there any part of our DNA that can predict whether or not we can be successful polyglots?
Z: In fact, neurobiologists have identified a gene that correlates to language. The FOXP2 gene was discovered in the 1990s through a study of a British family in which three generations suffered from severe speech problems. The 15 afflicted members of this family shared an inherited mutation of FOXP2, a gene that plays a central role in the brain’s language production processes, both cognitively (through pattern-mapping abilities) and physically (developing the facial muscles needed for articulating complicated sounds).
T: Interesting. And what was learnt from the discovery of this mutation?
Z: It pioneered new notions of a human ‘language gene’ and led to a trend in evolutionary research in the early 20th century, comparing FOXP2 genes in humans and other species, to shed light on how humans developed the capacity for language.
T: And I support this gene has been investigated in terms of language learning?
Z: Right. Recently, the mutated FOXP2 gene discovered in that British family has, surprisingly, been associated with foreign language learning ability, according to researchers.
T: What did that piece of research involve? How did they make the link?
Z: The research involved a pool of 204 young adults, who were tasked with listening to unfamiliar speech sounds and categorising them. Participants then gave saliva samples, from which researchers found that individuals with a certain variation on the FOXP2 gene were both faster and more accurate at doing the language task.
T: So how can knowledge of a learner’s DNA help in the process of mastering a new language?
Z: Well, the researchers did not propose specific approaches, but linguistically speaking, it would be difficult for language trainers to focus on one specific dimension of the learner’s brain.
T: What do you mean by that?
Z: What I mean it that while the research references a specific ‘language gene’ in the human brain, studying a new language actually requires several parts of the brain, comprised of several different genes, to work together. This includes the cognitive processes of memory, reasoning, perception, and information ordering. The strength and efficiency of these processes vary naturally from person to person.
T: Ok, so regardless of whether that variation comes from one’s genes, one’s surroundings, or both, these processes are pivotal in second language learning.
Z: Exactly. The genetic research strengthens the connection between biology and language in humans, but we still have a long way to go in determining how to optimally apply this knowledge in the world of language learning.
T: Right, thanks for that, Zara. Very interesting. We’d better move on, as time is short …