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Cereb Cortex. 2007 Mar;17(3):575-82. Epub 2006 Apr 7.

Brain structure predicts the learning of foreign speech sounds.

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Unité INSERM 562, Service Hospitalier Frédéric Joliot, CEA/DRM/DSV 4 Place du general Leclerc, 91401 Orsay cedex, France.


Previous work has shown a relationship between parietal lobe anatomy and nonnative speech sound learning. We scanned a new group of phonetic learners using structural magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging. Voxel-based morphometry indicated higher white matter (WM) density in left Heschl's gyrus (HG) in faster compared with slower learners, and manual segmentation of this structure confirmed that the WM volume of left HG is larger in the former compared with the latter group. This finding was replicated in a reanalysis of the original groups tested in Golestani and others (2002, Anatomical correlates of learning novel speech sounds. Neuron 35:997-1010). We also found that faster learners have a greater asymmetry (left > right) in parietal lobe volumes than slower learners and that the right insula and HG are more superiorly located in slower compared with faster learners. These results suggest that left auditory cortex WM anatomy, which likely reflects auditory processing efficiency, partly predicts individual differences in an aspect of language learning that relies on rapid temporal processing. It also appears that a global displacement of components of a right hemispheric language network, possibly reflecting individual differences in the functional anatomy and lateralization of language processing, is predictive of speech sound learning.

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