January 23

A bit of brain work

As some people will know I am a bit of a geek when it comes to wanting to research things I am involved in. I am fascinated with the how and the why as well as the what. BSL has been no exception and I have been reading some research papers on the neuro/science of learning a second language, and sign language in particular. In some ways it has been reassuring to understand the process of acquisition a little more and appreciate that I am struggling with the same  language attainment issues others have faced.

It would appear that for a while researchers thought that the learning and brain activation of an audio-visual language (spoken English) would be different to that of a visual gestural language (BSL). In case you are not already aware BSL is a visual gestural language that consists of three main parts:

  • Fingerspelling – used to spell words letter by letter
  • Word level sign vocabulary – the main communication form
  • Non manual features – facial expression and tongue, mouth and body position

The assumption had been that in BSL because of the perceived emphasis on the visual it would be processed differently by the brain. However, researchers found that the two areas of the brain associated with audio-visual language

  • Broca’s area of the brain, which is thought to be related to speech production and
  • Wernicke’s area, associated with comprehending speech;

are utilised in a similar way regardless. There is now some evidence that Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas are tied to language irrespective of how it is produced.

It suggests the brain is organised for language not for speech. Prof Karen Emmorey


It may sound silly but this has helped me to know that while learning BSL feels like a very different language sometimes, I do have the tools I need to learn it. It would seem that successfully learning BSL goes back to an earlier more fundamental post – practice, practice, practice…!!!



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Posted January 23, 2013 by Dawn Langley in category "BSL