The Basics of What We Understand About Brain Injuries and Language

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The brain is the most complex organ in the human body, and it has many parts that are responsible for a variety of everyday activities. One of the activities that we do every day is communicate, which involves several parts of the brain.

Damage to certain parts of the brain can change your language capabilities substantially. In some instances, an injured person might have difficulties speaking, while others might have difficulties understanding spoken or written language. Severe brain damage can lead to a complete loss of all language capacities. The difficulties a person encounters depends on the region or the brain that is damaged. Here are a few ways that a brain injury can affect language processing.

How Language Regions of the Brain Can Be Damaged

Areas of the brain that process language could incur damage based from a variety of situations. One typical reason the brain might become damaged is epilepsy, which causes recurrent seizures. It’s also possible for a part of the brain to be damaged during surgery, because of diseases such as brain cancer, or trauma resulting from a physical injury.

Parts of the Brain Associated with Language Processing

Several parts of the brain are associated with language processing, including the Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area.  Other parts of the brain, such as the angular gyrus, insular cortex, and basal ganglia, are involved in language processing as well. According to neuroscience researchers, “Regions in your frontal, temporal and parietal lobes formulate what you want to say and the motor cortex, in your frontal lobe, enables you to speak the words.” Damage to any one of these areas can result in decreased language abilities.

Damage to the Wernicke and Broca Areas of the Brain

When the Wernicke’s area is damaged, a person might be able to speak but not able to understand language. Carl Wernicke first learned this when a patient exhibited this symptom in 1867. A few years earlier, in 1861, Pierre Paul Broca observed a patient who was able to understand language but not produce it. He then found out in a postmortem examination that there was a lesion in what is now known as the Broca’s area.

According to personal injury lawyers, “As one of the most complex organs in the human body, the brain can dramatically alter your daily life when it’s damaged. For instance, if Wernicke’s area of the brain suffers damage, you could no longer be able to understand or comprehend written or spoken words. If Broca’s area is affected, you might not be able to form words to speak.”

Other Types of Language Deficits

The Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area are areas of the brain that are commonly referenced when talking about language loss, but there are other ways that a person can experience a language deficit. A deficit in language is called aphasia, and there are two types of aphasia: receptive and expressive. Receptive aphasia refers to a person’s ability to understand the meaning of language, and expressive aphasia refers to a person’s ability to express language.

Receptive and Expressive Aphasias

An example of receptive aphasia is a person who is able to express language but has difficulty understanding it. A person with receptive aphasia might still retain the ability to speak, but the words they are speaking might not have any meaning.

With an expressive aphasia, a person will be unable to make meaningful language, or their language will be impaired. They will, however, be able to understand language, and they will likely be aware of their impaired deficits in their ability to produce meaningful language.

Do People With Language Deficits Due to Brain Injury Ever Make Progress?

People who suffer a brain injury can make progress, and it’s sometimes over the course of several years or even decades. Those who experience brain injury might have difficulties expressing themselves, but it might get better over time. There are also things you can do to help, such as slowing the conversation or using simplified language to communicate.
Interested in learning more about how language learning affects the brain? Check out the Language Learners Journal for more information and free resources, or sign up for one of our online courses.

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