Professor Narly Golestani

Language Aptitude: Behavioral & Neural Predictors

What makes someone good at learning new languages? Are there specific aspects of aptitude, whether linguistic or non-linguistic, that confer an advantage for specific aspects of language learning? Are there neural (i.e. brain functional or structural) differences between people who speak one, a few or even many languages? And if so, to what extend might these have arisen from learning these languages, versus from potential predispositions? These are some of the questions we plan to explore in our upcoming research project at the University of Geneva, funded by the ‘Evolving Language’ National Center for Research Competence ( ). In this presentation, I will talk about our work, about some of the findings in the field, and will open a call for volunteers to participate in our study. You will be able to see your brain in action!’

Ask the speaker a question


  • CHALO says:

    Very interesting presentation; what is the current status of Geschwind-Galaburda hypothesis?

  • MsPolyglot says:

    Fantastic talk! I really enjoyed learning about the cutting-edge work being done with neuroscience and people who speak many languages. I could’ve listened for another hour because this was so fascinating!

  • Jemma says:

    Fascinating talk, thank you so much!

  • polyglotessa says:

    This is the type of conversation that I come to the Polyglot Conference to hear. One question I had after listening to the differences noticed in the brains of people who master the sounds of foreign languages very well – do musicians have an advantage when learning these foreign sounds?
    Thank you so much for this fabulous presentation, I look forward to hearing more about the results of your upcoming study!

  • Claudia65 says:

    Thank you Narly for sharing your expertise and cutting-edge research on polyglots from a neuroscience perspective.

  • Jhony Andrade says:

    Thank you Narly!

  • Paulette says:

    An interesting overview of the existing research.

    Given the fact that language learning is currently quite en vogue, and the internet seems bursting with aspiring polyglots, do you know if any researchers are trying to compare brain scans of the same individuals at different points in their language learning process? If you could scan someone when they were just starting their second or third language, and then again as they master each additional language, it could give insight into whether these structural and functional differences are more inborn or experience-driven.

  • EstherB says:

    Thank you for sharing. I wish I knew more about the brain. there seems to be a big proportion of interest in studying whether some people are Biologically better at second+ language acquisition. I felt a. It odd about that. It wasn’t clear whether this meant faster, or to a Higher level (and how is that defined?)-and whether these two things have been assumed or proven to go together. This may be well known in linguistic academia but it isn’t to me. One thing I hear over and over in the language community is the kind of passion/obsession that people acquire at some point, spending a lot of time on it, bringing their brain to it during activities like taking a shower. Would that Not be something Important to look for in the brain? It reminds me of music students, musicians, their passion to practice 8 hours a day. Also your presentation made me wonder about people who speak 5 languages but are illiterate in reading and writing, how would their brains look different? I imagine there are such people. And certainly there would have been more of them in ancient times.

  • Anonymous says:

    This was quite interesting. I wish I could participate in your study, but I neither speak 7+ languages, nor do I live in Europe. I did enjoy the information you shared.

  • themalaysianpolyglot says:

    Thank you for this fascinating video! ^^

  • Caro Lindig says:

    Fantastic topic! Extremely interesting! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Ute says:

    Thank you for fantastic insights into this topic. I would like to know more about the studies on multi- or plurilinguals and polyglots, and how much the language dominance at a certain phase in life influences the activation in the brain areas you mention. As language dominance and fluency in languages change over time and shift, there might be a change in the activation of L3, L4 etc. over time too.
    I am definitely interested in your study in Geneva!

  • Ursula says:

    Wonderful. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  • Mateo says:

    Extremely informative and interesting. I love scientific research into language learning and this taught me things I didn’t know and also managed to prove some theories which I had suspected before but had no evidence for. I won’t spoil it for new viewers! Thank you for a wonderful exposition.

  • Incredibly interesting field and thank you for sharing!

  • Alesia says:

    Fascinating topic! Definitely interested in going to Geneva!

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