General, Research, Technology

How is the brain of polyglots different from everyone else?

A polyglot is a person who is an adultHe speaks at least five foreign languages ​​of different linguistic groups or more. As the linguist Michael Erard notes, even the most gifted polyglots easily switch only between six or seven languages. At the same time, those who speak fluent different languages ​​often do not know them so well. Others read well in all languages, but do not speak all. At the same time, the most common myth about polyglot is precisely that they speak fluently and read well in all languages ​​at once. But what else do scientists know about the phenomenon of polyglots?

Greetings in different languages

You should not confuse polyglots with multilingual people (bilinguals) who have learned several languages ​​in childhood and from plurilingual, who learned several languages, at school.

There are more myths about polyglot than facts. So, there is an opinion that the male brain is more prone to multilingualism, and that all polyglots are left-handed, although there is no scientific evidence to support this. According to, these unfounded theories infuriate Yevgeny Fedorenko, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His laboratory conducts research aimed at dispelling myths about polyglot and shedding light on the work of their brain.

Polyglot: facts and myths

Recently, a polyglot named Suzanne Zarayskaya twospent hours inside the fMRI device. Zaraysk speaks nine languages, including: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian. At the same time, another woman speaks Ladino, a dialect of the Spanish language that was spoken by Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th century. About how many languages ​​on the Earth and how they appeared, read in the material of my colleague Daria Yeletskaya.

As far as scientists know, now at MITThe first modern study of the brain of polyglots. Zarayskaya is the 23rd participant in the study, which differs from many other polyglots: she learns languages ​​mainly through conversation and singing. She told the researchers that she would die of boredom while reading a grammar textbook, as her polyglot friends (men) do. But does the brain of those who read textbooks work in the same way as the brain of Zaraysk, who learns languages ​​through conversation and songs? Scientists have been trying to figure this out for almost a century.

What languages ​​do you speak? Share your answer in the comments

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Linguist Michael Erard Traced the Study Historythere are no more polyglots in his book of Babylon. While working on the book, Erard talked with German neuroscientists who studied the surviving brain of Emil Krebs, a German diplomat who died in 1930. Krebs claimed to speak 68 languages. A recent analysis of his brain revealed some abnormalities, including denser cell structures in unexpected areas.

But was Krebs born with a predisposition tomultilingualism or did this ability develop over time as it grows older? Unfortunately, studying the pieces of Krebs brain cannot be found out. That is why the study of the living brain of polyglots at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology marks a lot more hope. It should be noted that it is very difficult to master a foreign language perfectly. In addition to the language, you need to get acquainted with the culture in which it was formed. Otherwise, a person will possess only “vocabulary” knowledge.

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What did fMRI scan show?

Scientists scan the brain at MITtest subjects and track blood flow, which tells them which areas are most active at one time or another. When the subject is inside the fMRI device with headphones, they include voices recorded on tape. Sometimes a language is heard that the polyglot knows well; in other cases, languages ​​that he partially understands. In the course of their work, the researchers included written languages ​​that the subjects were sure they did not understand at all.

Polyglot Suzanne Zarayskaya holds MIT brain scan listing

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Until February 2020, the results obtainedat first glance seemed illogical. The control group in the study was a group of monolinguals - people who speak only one language. They have brain regions associated with the tongue, in the fMRI images look pretty large. At the same time, the polyglots looked as if these areas were incredibly small. In other words, polyglots were less - and not more involved in the process.

The most obvious and plausible interpretationthe results obtained are efficiency. According to the authors of the study, which has not yet been peer reviewed and has not been published, the brain of polyglots simply should not work so hard. He does not need a sharp rush of blood to process data in a foreign language. According to Evgenia Fedorenko, the lead author of the study, the genius of polyglots is often overestimated. And it brings relief to everyone else. Agree, it’s nice to realize that you don’t need superpowers to learn foreign languages. One way or another, the study continues and we look forward to the results.