What happens in the brain when you learn a language?

Learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. This is what Swedish scientists discovered when they used brain scans to monitor what happens when someone learns a second language. The study is part of a growing body of research using brain imaging technologies to better understand the cognitive benefits of language learning. Tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology, among others, can now tell us not only whether we need knee surgery or have irregularities with our heartbeat, but reveal what is happening in our brains when we hear, understand and produce second languages.

The Swedish MRI study showed that learning a foreign language has a visible effect on the brain. Young adult military recruits with a flair for languages learned Arabic, Russian or Dari intensively, while a control group of medical and cognitive science students also studied hard, but not at languages. MRI scans showed specific parts of the brains of the language students developed in size whereas the brain structures of the control group remained unchanged. Equally interesting was that learners whose brains grew in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language learning had better language skills than other learners for whom the motor region of the cerebral cortex developed more.

In other words, the areas of the brain that grew were linked to how easy the learners found languages, and brain development varied according to performance. As the researchers noted, while it is not completely clear what changes after three months of intensive language study mean for the long term, brain growth sounds promising.

Looking at functional MRI brain scans can also tell us what parts of the brain are active during a specific learning task. For example, we can see why adult native speakers of a language like Japanese cannot easily hear the difference between the English “r” and “l” sounds (making it difficult for them to distinguish “river” and “liver” for example). Unlike English, Japanese does not distinguish between “r” and “l” as distinct sounds. Instead, a single sound unit (known as a phoneme) represents both sounds.

When presented with English words containing either of these sounds, brain imaging studies show that only a single region of a Japanese speaker’s brain is activated, whereas in English speakers, two different areas of activation show up, one for each unique sound.

For Japanese speakers, learning to hear and produce the differences between the two phonemes in English requires a rewiring of certain elements of the brain’s circuitry. What can be done? How can we learn these distinctions?

Early language studies based on brain research have shown that Japanese speakers can learn to hear and produce the difference in “r” and “l” by using a software program that greatly exaggerates the aspects of each sound that make it different from the other. When the sounds were modified and extended by the software, participants were more easily able to hear the difference between the sounds. In one study, after only three 20-minute sessions (just a single hour’s worth), the volunteers learned to successfully distinguish the sounds, even when the sounds were presented as part of normal speech.

This sort of research might eventually lead to advances in the use of technology for second-language learning. For example, using ultrasound machines like the ones used to show expectant parents the features and movements of their babies in the womb, researchers in articulatory phonetics have been able to explain to language learners how to make sounds by showing them visual images of how their tongue, lips, and jaw should move with their airstream mechanisms and the rise and fall of the soft palate to make these sounds.

Ian Wilson, a researcher working in Japan, has produced some early reports of studies of these technologies that are encouraging. Of course, researchers aren’t suggesting that ultrasound equipment be included as part of regular language learning classrooms, but savvy software engineers are beginning to come up with ways to capitalise on this new knowledge by incorporating imaging into cutting edge language learning apps.

Kara Morgan-Short, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, uses electrophysiology to examine the inner workings of the brain. She and her colleagues taught second-language learners to speak an artificial language – a miniature language constructed by linguists to test claims about language learnability in a controlled way.

In their experiment, one group of volunteers learned through explanations of the rules of the language, while a second group learned by being immersed in the language, similar to how we all learn our native languages. While all of their participants learned, it was the immersed learners whose brain processes were most like those of native speakers. Interestingly, up to six months later, when they could not have received any more exposure to the language at home because the language was artificial, these learners still performed well on tests, and their brain processes had become even more native-like.

In a follow-up study, Morgan-Short and her colleagues showed that the learners who demonstrated particular talents at picking up sequences and patterns learned grammar particularly well through immersion. Morgan-Short said: “This brain-based research tells us not only that some adults can learn through immersion, like children, but might enable us to match individual adult learners with the optimal learning contexts for them.”

Brain imaging research may eventually help us tailor language learning methods to our cognitive abilities, telling us whether we learn best from formal instruction that highlights rules, immersing ourselves in the sounds of a language, or perhaps one followed by the other.

However we learn, this recent brain-based research provides good news. We know that people who speak more than one language fluently have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals. Canadian studies suggest that Alzheimer’s disease and the onset of dementia are diagnosed later for bilinguals than for monolinguals, meaning that knowing a second language can help us to stay cognitively healthy well into our later years.

Even more encouraging is that bilingual benefits still hold for those of us who do not learn our second languages as children. Edinburgh University researchers point out that “millions of people across the world acquire their second language later in life: in school, university, or work, or through migration or marriage.” Their results, with 853 participants, clearly show that knowing another language is advantageous, regardless of when you learn it.

Alison Mackey is professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and Lancaster University.

Universal Design

The term «universal design» is often applied in different ways but broadly refers to the concept that ideally all design (products, technologies and the built environment) should serve the broadest range of people, regardless of levels of ability or mobility, age, gender or physical stature without the need for adaptation or specialized design. It is not a design style but rather an orientation to design, focusing on the end-user.

Universal Design: A Commitment to Accommodate All
More and more people want to live a happy, healthy life in the home that means something to them and their family. Universal design has the power to make life better for every client, no matter their stage of life.

Universal Design: New Relevancy for the 21st Century
Universal design means finding opportunities for helping every client live better. Includes information on the seven principles of universal design and basic consideration s for incorporating universal design into projects.


Universal Design Links

What Is Universal Design? (related article on home modification)

The American Occupational Therapy Association is the nationally recognized professional association of more than 35,000 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants and students of occupational therapy. AOTA’s Web site contains useful information about aging in general, as well as Aging in Place.

Center for Universal Design
Operated by the College of Design at North Carolina State University, CUD is a national information, technical assistance, and research center that evaluates, develops, and promotes accessible and universal design in housing, commercial and public facilities, outdoor environments, and products.

IDEA (Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access)
The IDEA Center is dedicated to improving the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safer and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities throughout their life spans.

Universal Design Alliance
A nonprofit, membership organization for professionals and educators in design-related fields, the Universal Design Alliance seeks to create awareness and expand the public’s knowledge of universal design. Its Web site includes information on education (CEUs) and events, as well as design principles and resources on related organizations and products. It also offer consultation and referral services.

DMG Mori using 3D printer, CNC mill hybrid to produce Porsche parts

DMG Mori, a German manufacturer of cutting machine tools, is using its LASERTEC hybrid 3D printer and CNC mill to produce components for Porsche racing cars. The company is predicting an imminent and dramatic rise in 3D printing technology within the automotive and aerospace industries.

The automobile industry has swerved to the left and is driving down a new lane—a faster lane. With more and more auto components being 3D printed, often to great effect, the whole industry is racing to catch up with additive manufacturing technology and its wide range of potential uses. Take the case of DMG Mori for instance, one of Europe’s foremost machine tool manufacturers, which has been using 3D printing to make parts for Porsche, the iconic German automobile company.

The implementation of 3D printing technology has greatly improved efficiency within the company, and has enabled workers to create physical products in a matter of hours, rather than weeks or months. «In the past, the whole process—from concept to production—could take six weeks or more,» said DMG Mori CEO Rüdiger Kapitza. ”Today, you can make a design on the computer at midday, and have the finished component in your hand by the evening.”

In actual fact, Bielefeld-based DMG Mori even has the ability to use a combination of additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques to produce its fine-tuned parts for Porsche and other clients. Using its all-in-one LASERTEC machine, the German company has been able to create 3D printed parts, before cutting and sculpting those parts using CNC milling technology—all within a single device.

Thanks to innovative technology such as that found in the LASERTEC 3D printer / CNC mill hybrid, 3D printing is becoming a more and more central part of the DMG Mori enterprise, both creatively and financially. In 2015, the company’s additive manufacturing products and services resulted in a turnover of 70 million euros, a figure expected to rise to 100 million euros this year.

In terms of the wide variety of potential 3D printing applications, DMG’s collaboration with Porsche is, according to Kapitza, just the beginning. The CEO claims to have learned a lot from his work with Porsche, but soon expects to be 3D printing aircraft components and potentially even engine components for both road and air vehicles. “SLS and SLM technology is developing incredibly fast,” said Kapitza.

For DMG and its sister company in Japan, additive manufacturing is proving a significant windfall. With sales reaching 2.3 billion euros, 2015 represented the most successful year in the company’s 147-year history.

Source: www.3drs.org

The Best Supercars of the 2016 Geneva Motor Show

The biggest hit of the 2016 Geneva Motor Show was the Bugatti Chiron, said to be the most powerful, most luxurious, most exclusive and fastest production sports car in the world. The Chiron offers 1,500 HP, a peak torque of 1,180 lb-ft and an electronically-limited maximum speed of 260 mph. The combination of speed and power is understandable, given the fact that French automaker’s engineers endowed it with a W16 engine incorporating four two-stage turbochargers. They also employed a carbon fiber monocoque and an adaptive chassis. Cost is $2.6 million. (Source: Bugatti Automobiles)