Neurofeedback improves foreign language learning
When people learn foreign languages, it is often difficult for them to discriminate and learn sounds that do not exist in their native language. Speech sounds are a part of language-specific memories that develop categories relevant to one’s native language during childhood. Some sounds, such as “L” and “R” in English, may have two separate speech sound categories. The same “L” and “R” sounds in Japanese, however, fall within the same speech category. Therefore, it can be difficult for native Japanese speakers to differentiate similar sounding words with differences involving L’s and R’s. This auditory discrimination has shown to be improved, however, with mismatch negativity. Mismatch negativity is an event-related potential at the frontocentral and central scalp electrodes in response to new sounds that has also recently been paired with neurofeedback to improve one’s ability to accurately discriminate new sounds. Speech sounds, however, are more complex than tones, and the efficacy of mismatch negativity neurofeedback on foreign language learning is a novel area, investigated in this current study.
Chang and colleagues investigated the efficacy of mismatch negativity neurofeedback for discriminating L and R sounds in English words among native Japanese speakers. The participants were trained using mismatch negativity neurofeedback to distinguish the words ‘light’ and ‘right’. The results demonstrated that mismatch negativity neurofeedback was effective for training participants to differentiate the words ‘light’ and ‘right’. Additionally, participants were able to distinguish other similar words involving L and R sounds, with which they had not been trained. Therefore, mismatch negativity neurofeedback appears to have preliminary support as an aid for learning foreign languages.