The brain science has opened several windows on human life. The findings of this science are revisiting several of our strong held beliefs and convictions about human life. These studies are beginning to show that our brain is not static but evolving and growing in complexity over time. Some activities like music, mathematics, sports, art and philosophy can reshape our brain. This means smartness is not simply born but is a result of what we do with our brain. Hence, the new scientific mantra is ‘use it or lose it’. It may be interesting to learn from neuroscience about our language learning ability. The research demonstrates that learning several languages leads to the growth of our brain. Our kids in Goa are at least slowly becoming trilingual by just being part of a plural linguistic environment which is increasingly becoming part of our homes due to the idiot box. Listening is shown to be the greatest tool for learning language. Hence, learning multi-languages is becoming exciting in the safety of our homes.
Neuroscience today teaches that the left side of our brain is responsible for language. It is called Broca’s and Wernike’s area. This takes us into the emerging field that we call neuro-linguistics which studies the relationship between language and the brain. It locates the parts of the brain that are concerned with language. These areas are located above the left ear. The Broca area is named after the nineteen century physician Paul Broca who discovered that any damage in that area led to the difficulty in speech production. The Wernike’s area is christened after the German nineteen century neurologist who discovered that damage in this area can cause difficulties in speech comprehension.
Broca area specialises in the syntax of the language while Wernike deals with meaning. This means generating sentences and the meanings that they carry are the functions of two different areas of the brain. Various kinds of speech pathologies develop due to damage to these areas. These developments in neuroscience are beginning to illuminate the language learning process along with other things.
We now know how language is processed by our brain. First sound travels as nerve impulses to Wernike’s area where it is analysed and then to Broca’s area where sounds are assembled in sequences from where it reaches the motor cortex which sends signals and directs the speech muscles. When we deal with the written word the brain process becomes even more complex. The process begins in the visual cortex which processes the text. Then it moves to angular gyrus which further processes the texts and creates an auditory code which then communicates with Wernike’s area. Wernike’s area communicates to the Boroca’s area leading to the speech production. Broca’s area combines sound into sentences. When it is damaged the patient suffers from what is called Broca’s Aphasia . The victim uses words particularly nouns or verbs, not sentences. It is nothing but broken speech. Wernike’s area is responsible for speaking coherent sentences. If someone had damaged Wernike’s area he/ she cannot make any coherent sentences. This condition is called Wernicke’s Aphasia. When both these disabilities are present in a victim it is called global aphasia.
There are different types of aphasics or linguistic pathologies like conduction aphasia which is a result of damage to arcuate fasciculus. This affects the ability to conduct information between listening and speaking leading to inability to repeat. There are other aphasics like agraphia which is an inability to write or anomia which debilitates naming. There are other specific debilities like reading, spelling, pronunciation. The neuroplasticity of the brain allows the undamaged parts of the brain to take up the functions of the damaged areas of the brain. The plasticity of our brain to fight abnormal conditions can open us ways to understand how multilingualism can stimulate brain development than mono-lingualism. But what comes up strongly is the role of an appropriate environment for optimal learning results. Hence, we may have to understand how the present teaching learning environment at the primary level in Goa might be debilitating to the students in their acquisition of knowledge in the mono-lingual and monochromic Konkani.
Our brain is biologically attuned to acquire language right from the time we take our first breath. But the process of acquisition requires experience. The fact that the meaning (semantic area) and the area that processes the syntax are two different areas in the brain can open the debate about whether the kind of Konkani (that is operating as the medium of instruction) can produce healthy optimal results. Though the brain plasticity might assist us to overcome the deficiencies, it can produce stress and dislike to the Konkani as taught at the primary level, producing exactly opposite results than the desired goal of our educational enterprise. We have studied how neuroscience illuminates the hampering of our linguistic abilities due physical damage to our brain. We have to still understand how the profound insights of neuroscience bring to light the manner in which the intensity of emotions produced by external stimuli excites or inhibits learning responses in us. A linguistic atmosphere that unhomes innocent children can become a block in their acquisition and comprehension of language. We will deepen this issue one other time. Since we have clear asymmetry in the phonetics, and syntax of the Konkani that is the present medium of instruction at least for the students coming from minority backgrounds, it cannot be unilaterally regarded as the mother tongue of these children. that would be an oversimplification of a complex issue.
Neuroscience teaches that a holistic environment that integrally considers how the Body-Mind, Emotional and cognitive processes can produce optimal results is best suited for acquiring mastery over a language. That is why a primary education policy that claims to be personalised and suited to our Goan condition has to think about the living and speaking conditions of the students. At the moment, the Konkani that is being taught depersonalised a section of the pupils. Hence, we might do well if we consider the implications of developments in neuroscience and address the issue. If we are unscientifically holding on to the type of Konkani that excludes rather than includes a section of our people, those who propagate such a Konkani may be responsible for its death despite their best intentions. Hence, it is important to evaluate how the type of Konkani that masquerades as the mother tongue of all Goans stimulates learning or produces unlearning in our students. Well, unlearning is also learning and the brain unlearns as well as learns.