November 28, 2009

Good ears? Not the reason for language ability

Once I discovered that I was good at languages, I thought I had a "good ear". I thought that my partial visual disability made me have good hearing. Often people who are disabled develop extra sensitive skills in their other senses to compensate for their impairment.

While giving a presentation in Thailand about how to learn English using music and the media, an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor in the audience told me that she'd be happy to test my hearing to see if I did indeed have super sonic hearing.

Though I have a strange proclivity to get into medical problems abroad, this international medical venture was purely intellectual. I entered the Bumrungrad Hospital, a super fancy hospital that looks more like a hotel and was warmly greeted by the many staff standing around ready to speak in English, Chinese, Arabic and Thai. There were comfortable sofas, chairs and free water bottles everywhere.

The doctor's assistants did various tests on my hearing by playing low pitch sounds through a headphone while I sat in a sound proof room.

The result: my hearing is good, but not off the charts.

The doctor explained that it's not that I have good ears, it's that most likely that the auditory areas of my brain are wired such that I pay close attention to sound.

Now I need to find a neurologist who would be interested to figure out what parts of my brain are activated by foreign languages and music. I really want to find this out so that I can help others know how to learn foreign languages as well as I can.

Susanna Zaraysky learned foreign languages like music. She's written a book, Language is Music, with tips on how to learn foreign languages using music and the media. Thanks to music, she speaks seven with perfect or almost perfect accents! She's a guest blogger at Leximo.

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