Xaver Funk

Polyglot Science

Full Title: Peculiar Motivation or Efficient Language Network? Reviewing the Polyglot Science

In recent years, scientific investigations of bi- and multilingual people have lead to interesting findings in the field of neurolinguistics and second language acquisition. Yet, the research on polyglots remains really scarce. However, there still are a handful of studies that focus on this quite peculiar population, asking questions about their language abilities and how their brain differs from monolinguals. This talk will review these and thereby provide insight into what we currently know and don’t know about polyglots and their brains.

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  • Nico says:

    Thanks so much for this talk! It’s really very interesting! Would it be possible to post the URLs provided in the talk?

  • ivany78 says:

    Thank you for the very interesting and clear presentation.

    Would I be able to summarize that to be a polyglot;

    (1) Motivation is really the key on the condition one has an above-average implicit learning ability?

    In other words, talent (implicit learning ability) is secondary to motivation?

    (2) Depending on the language, a clear and great explicit learning strategy is the most important thing one can do that apart from relying on talent?

    Hear from you soon.

  • Xaver Funk says:


    I am not familiar with any studies examining this shift, but probably people in research already think about these questions.

    However, more data will be needed to answer them, especially from longitudinal studies that follow people over longer time periods.

  • Xaver Funk says:

    These kind of questions are really interesting and answerable in the future, as more data on polyglots accumulates. It would be really interesting to find something like the ‘brain activity peak’ you refer to. Maybe examining bilingual polyglots or languages that people command to a very high level and use everyday specifically could help elucidate this.

    The group at MIT might already be thinking about tackling this question, but more data is needed.

  • Ute says:

    Thank you so much, Xaver, for sharing these studies and their results. I wonder, like JimmyP, how this last study you mention would look like if one would consider the language shift, the shift of language dominance across the lifespan. When our native language (L1) becomes less dominant in our life and another language attains levels of fluency that are comparable to L1. Or, what if instead of indicating L1, L2 etc. who refer to the chronological order one acquires and learns languages, we would rather consider our higher dominance/proficiency/fluency in a given language at a given time, and start from there?
    Are you familiar with studies who consider this language shift?
    Thank you, again, for giving this great overview of studies on “Polyglot Science”.

  • JimmyP says:

    In the last MIT results you are presenting, I understood that brain needs less activity to process native language than to process familiar foreign languages (and the more proficient you are, the more information you pick up and have to process). I guess the study was led on American polyglots in USA, and that when passing the tests, exposure to a foreign language is a change of environment for the brain.
    Are you aware of research that might study if and how, with longer exposure to a foreign language, the brain activity then evolves from a “foreign language processing activity” to a “native language processing activity”?
    In other words, when one’s fluency in a language improves continually, is there a “brain activity peak” at some point, after which the brain adapts and then requires less activity to process the language?
    Anyway, thank you for making recent research on the topic visible and understandable (and of course many thanks to the research team for the bonus content!)

  • Martha says:

    Both clear and provocative–thank you!
    (1) Is there a link you could post to your previous talk what polyglots can learn from neuroscience?
    (2) Lest anyone be discouraged from volunteering: TITANIUM plates are OK in MRIs and so (presumably?) in the study.

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