Have You Measured Your Students’ Heschl’s Gyrus-es lately?

If not, maybe you should, because according to scientists at Northwestern University, the size of a person’s Heschl’s Gyrus (the left one, apparently) can predict how successful a language learner the person will be.

Using an MRI – it’s a part of the brain! – researchers measured the size of the Heschl’s Gyrus of several subjects. The subjects were then taught six one-syllable sounds, each “repeated” at a total of three different tones, for a total of 18 “words”. Each “new” word was associated with an English word or meaning. Those with larger Heschel’s Gyrus-es did in fact remember better, and more quickly:

“As a group – and sometimes in fewer than two or three sessions — the nine participants predicted on the basis of left HG size to be “more successful learners” achieved an average of 97 percent accuracy in identifying the pseudo words. The “less successful” participants averaged 63 percent accuracy and sometimes required as many as 18 training sessions to correctly identify the words.”


Two other categories of subject “characteristics” were mentioned – behavioral and neurophysiologic – and it seems that taken alongside the size of the left Heschel’s Gyrus, these three factors together predict ability better than any one alone. Musical training at an early age was also often connected to better foreign language learning ability.

It’s probably worth pointing out that there is a lot more to learning a language than remembering vocabulary…but this certainly plays an important role.

Just wait: it won’t be long I’m sure til students in some countries will turn up at the doctor’s with a note from the English teacher requesting an MRI.

How big is your Heschl’s Gyrus?