Children naturally acquire a language in social contexts where they interact with their caregivers. Indeed, research shows that social interaction facilitates lexical and phonological development at the early stages of child language acquisition. It is not clear, however, whether the relationship between social interaction and learning applies to adult second language acquisition of syntactic rules. Does learning second language syntactic rules through social interactions with a native speaker or without such interactions impact behavior and the brain? The current study aims to answer this question. Adult Japanese participants learned a new foreign language, Japanese sign language (JSL), either through a native deaf signer or via DVDs. Neural correlates of acquiring new linguistic knowledge were investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The participants in each group were indistinguishable in terms of their behavioral data after the instruction. The fMRI data, however, revealed significant differences in the neural activities between two groups. Significant activations in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) were found for the participants who learned JSL through interactions with the native signer. In contrast, no cortical activation change in the left IFG was found for the group who experienced the same visual input for the same duration via the DVD presentation. Given that the left IFG is involved in the syntactic processing of language, spoken or signed, learning through social interactions resulted in an fMRI signature typical of native speakers: activation of the left IFG. Thus, broadly speaking, availability of communicative interaction is necessary for second language acquisition and this results in observed changes in the brain.
ASJC Scopus subject areas