Researchers at the Polytechnic University of Valencia have joined forced with Isora Solutions to test a new approach to language learning: resetting your ears in a bid to recreate the 'critical period' of language learning.
To analyse the effect of neurosensory auditory stimulation in language learning. This is the objective of a project being carried out by GALE researchers at the department of Applied Linguistics at the Universitat Politècnica de València (Polytechnic University of Valencia, UPV) and the company Isora Solutions.
We are all born polyglots, able to differentiate all sounds in all languages. But over time we start to home in on the sounds of our native language, in effect "tuning" our ears to a narrow set of frequencies, at the expense of others. This makes it harder to learn a foreign language as an adult, since it is not just a case of buckling down and learning the grammar, but of a physiological hurdle that prevents us from adequately distinguishing the new language's full range of sounds.
In this study researchers are testing neurosensory auditory stimulation as a means of resetting our ears to regain this starting capacity.
Hernán Cerna of Isora Solutions explains: "Spanish-speakers […] hear frequencies of between 125 and 2,500 hertz; Russians, meanwhile, are able to receive and process frequencies from 25 to 11,000 hertz, which goes some way to explaining their affinity for language-learning. What we hope to achieve is to reset our hearing so that we can process the full range of frequencies we are born with."
Said neurosensory auditory stimulation takes the form of listening to Mozart pieces that have been filtered to create sudden changes in tone and intensity, "which surprise the brain" (Cerna). This surprise should be particularly effective given that the volunteers will be listening to these doctored masterpieces through purpose-designed bone conduction headphones, meaning they will hear the music not only through their ears but also through their upper brains.
The second and subsequent auditory stimulation sessions will include English-language tests to consolidate improvements to the volunteers' listening skills in this foreign language.
The idea is to "to get the ears to "open up" to a larger range of frequencies and, by doing so, boost language receptiveness" (Cerna).
As of last month (February 2016), the UPV and Isora Solutions researchers began carrying out these auditory stimulation sessions on a total of 180 volunteers of all ages (from 19 to 59), using a method and technology developed by the companyTomatis.
First, clinical hearing examinations were carried out to establish the good health of the participants' hearing. Then their level of English (as a foreign language) was assessed, primarily in terms of speaking and listening, in the form of a listening test devised by specialist UPV researchers.
The volunteers will undergo these tests after each session of Mozart: "[They] will give us an idea as to the listening skills of each participant in terms of the language being learned and allow us to chart their progress," Cristina Pérez of the UPV tells us.
"We hope to show how, through auditory stimulation, it is possible to extend the range of frequencies we are able to process, and that neurosensory linguistic integration is highly efficient for people who want to learn, study or recover a language," Cerna adds.
The project will run for the next six months.
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