The Biology of Language Learning

This video is a lecture from a Stanford University class called “Human Behavioral Biology” taught by professor Robert Sapolsky.

The video is cued at where he talks about babies losing the ability to hear phonemes that are not in their parents’ language by age 1.

If you like it, please comment below.

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    Amber Noel

    The professor is amazing in his knowledge and his ability to teach his students an understanding of language.
    At age 69, I’m beginning to learn a foreign language, Spanish. I’m finding it to be quite a challenge and I’ve been beating myself up because of how slowly I’m grasping Spanish. After, watching Dr. Sapolsky’s lecture and learning that I have not had phonemes for 68 years and may always have an English accent, I can just relax and enjoy the process of learning Spanish and maybe even pat myself on the back a little for taken on this new adventure. Gracias Dr. Sapolsky.
    Amber Noel

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    Benjamin F Davidson

    I have read your review and listened to the video by Robert Sapolsky. Your comments reflect much of my own experience in studying theories of learning languages and in trying the basic practices of learning languages. I too prefer the Pimsleur Method to the others. I am curious to try your methods. I am currently doing research on the best language teaching and learning methods. I am surprised that it does not appear that serious research to determine the best methods. There seems to be tremendous commercial opportunity for methods that “Really” teach languages. Have you had experience with Natural Ways to learn language like that defined in the work of Yo Sakakibara – Language is our Music? This is work developed and taught in the organization. Mostly developed in Japan but opened centers in Boston after Noam Chomsky made comments and visited Japan to engage directly with the finders. Feedback would be most appreciated here or in e-mail.

    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      I think that serious academic research into what works and what doesn’t HAS been done. A.J. Hodge of this web site: has implement some of the research and has attracted a large following.

      Here’s a summary I did of one of his videos.

      Both Hoge and LEX use stories. Stories are very very good at turning vocabulary that you only know in the context of study (dead vocabulary) into live vocabulary. This is part of the game, but only part.

      Asians typically memorize lots of vocabulary in English but still can’t speak English. Along comes Hoge with good stories and after they study his lessons they can speak English.

      I spent about half an hour looking at the LEX pages and other than a great headline “Anyone Can Speak 7 Languages”, I didn’t see anything that was new to me or likely to work exceptionally well. Their audio lessons make the very common mistake of giving you more than the 7 seconds of foreign language sounds that you can store.

      Is foreign travel for language learning good (yes, but it’s not particularly effective).

      Lex is claiming to be immersion, like Rosetta Stone does. It isn’t immersion of course and even real immersion only helps you a lot if you also study hard while there.

      Learning the same story in seven different languages probably has a lot of merit as a language learning method.

      Perhaps I can find time to do a more detailed review and I certainly will if more people ask for it.

      Thanks again for your comments.

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