The Basics of What We Understand About Brain Injuries and Language

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.

Did You Know? Learning a Language Can Help You Recover from Traumatic Brain Injury

All of us, whether we know it or not, are temporarily abled. Anything can happen at any time, and suddenly, we have a disability. This article will look at the definition of a traumatic brain injury, then move on to the standard recovery process, and at how learning a language can help you recover from traumatic brain injury.

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused in a variety of ways, such as a violent blow or jolt to the head or body, or an “object that penetrates brain tissue.” This trauma damages the brain cells which causes brain dysfunction. This dysfunction may be temporary or permanent based on the severity of the trauma.

Every case of TBI carries with it a unique set of symptoms depending on where the damaged brain cells are located. Damage to the prefrontal cortex, for example, affects your executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills include complex tasks like organization, problem-solving, and reasoning. Sometimes injuries aren’t immediately apparent after an accident, however. So, that’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of a TBI.

The primary cognitive symptom that is commonly associated with a TBI is memory or concentration problems and mood changes or swings. There are also sensory and physical symptoms. Sensory symptoms include sensory disturbances, these are changes to your senses like the ability to hear what people are saying, but not able to understand what they are saying. Finally, some physical symptoms include problems with speech, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.

Damaged brains and symptoms may seem overwhelming and hopeless, but the brain is moldable like plastic. Neuroscience calls this neuroplasticity; it means that your brain is developed to work, so it will find workarounds to do the same tasks. If a part of the brain is damaged, another part of the brain can take over; it just might take a little bit more time than before. Think of it like going from point A to point B, but after damage, it must go from point A to point C, to point D, and then finally to point B.

To give an example, in 1848, a man named Phineas Gage had an iron bar blown through his skull in a railroad construction accident, destroying a large part of his brain. However, he was still able to do many things because his brain found ways to compensate. Supposedly, he told the doctor “Here is business enough for you” soon after the accident. We can help our brain to make these connections by engaging in everyday activities.

The Recovery Process

After a TBI, some patients start seeing a speech-language pathologist (SLP). An SLP is a doctor who specializes in language disorders, which covers a wide range of language problems like trouble understanding others, “difficulty producing speech sounds correctly or fluently,” and communicating for social purposes.

In the beginning, SLPs generally focus on both you and your loved ones. They focus on you by trying to help you get normal responses to sensory stimulation because sensory symptoms are common in TBI. They focus on your loved ones by 1) helping them come to terms with who you are now with your possibly different personality and 2) helping them to help you practice what you are doing with the SLP.

After your sensory responses are in the normal range, the SLP moves on to help you figure out strategies that work for you for more complex tasks like executive functioning and social skills. While the SLP can help out a lot, you can also do a lot of things on your own to help you recover from a TBI.

Learning a New Language

In a case study published in the Journal “Disability and Rehabilitation,” researchers enrolled a Polish woman in an English language learning program nine months after her head injury. The program consisted of monthly meetings and lasted six months. By the end of the six months, she had learned enough to go on to more complex lexical items within English. The researchers concluded that learning another language “may positively influence emotional well-being, self-esteem, and, perhaps, recovery of quality of life.” Ultimately, they found that her memory improved long-term after the study was concluded.

One of the main benefits of learning a language is the new vocabulary might help bolster the vocabulary that was lost in the first language. If you want to learn a language for this reason, here are some things to think about

  • Studies have shown that training the language you are less proficient in results in more prominent transfer effects on your first language
  • Choosing another language that is similar in syntax, phonology, vocabulary, and meaning help.
  • Work on words that you are struggling to remember in your first language.
  • Work on remembering the meaning of words rather than the words themselves—this will help you to talk around the word if you forget it.

Conclusion

There are different ways that a TBI can affect you in your daily life, but just because you have a TBI doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Our brains are malleable and can adapt after a TBI. Learning a language is just one of many ways to begin your journey toward recovery. Find your way and be patient.

References:

Mayo Clinic | Traumatic Brain Injury

Smithsonian.com | Phineas Gage: Neurosciense’s Most Famous Patient

ASHA | Speech-Language Pathologists

Craig Swapp | Seattle Brain Injury Lawyer

Brainline | Traumatic Brain Injury: Benefits of Speech-Language Pathology Services

Researchgate | Second language acquisition after traumatic brain injury: A case study

Science Daily | Aphasia and bilingualism: Using one language to relearn another

Do Language Learners Have a Higher EQ?

Measuring a person’s IQ (Intelligence Quotient) has been common practice for decades. But in recent years, researchers have directed their attention to the study of a person’s Emotional Intelligence—their EQ.

You likely already know about the primary benefits of language learning, but did you know that learning a second language could boost your EQ? Here’s a closer look at how learning a language teaches students empathy.

What is empathy?  

Emotional intelligence can best be understood through empathy, which is the ability to understand other people and feel compassion for them. It is argued as being the most defining human quality because it sets us apart from other beings, like robots and animals.

Without empathy, we would not be able to work as a functioning society because we need empathy in schools, workspaces, and other areas that bind society together. Empathy involves a sensitivity to others’ emotions, understanding where their emotions came from, and responding to them in the right manner.

Where does empathy come from?

Babies do not have empathy, so where does it come from? Most children develop empathy naturally, while other children may react in inappropriate ways towards others’ emotions.

Children who have difficulties with empathy have no problems identifying emotional reactions, but they do have difficulties understanding the purpose of these emotions. It has been studied and proven that poor development of empathy in childhood leads to poor social skills in adulthood.

Why is language important?

Language is the soul of each culture. The ability to understand a language is crucial for historians and those who study international affairs.

Both of these people focus on learning their project’s language because they know that without it, they can’t have an understanding of the cultures of these groups. In general, different societies have different languages, cultural practices, and ways of communicating. To understand a new culture, we must first understand their language.

How is language linked with empathy?

Bilingual speakers are better thinkers, they’re more creative, and they’re better at understanding people. All of the superior social skills of bilinguals are components of empathy. Bilingualism improves creativity, which grants people new ways of seeing the world from a  different point of view. Understanding a new point of view has a direct correlation with empathy because it involves understanding other people’s emotions that aren’t your own from a new perspective.

Many colleges, programs, and employers place a high value on people who are bilingual. Particularly, multilingual workers in the healthcare and service industry not only benefit from improved communication but also from heightened levels of understanding—empathy. Even in the virtual world of telemedicine, virtual rehab, and online doctor’s visits, knowing a second language is a distinct advantage.

The Bottom Line

Not only does learning the second language teach you to be more compassionate, but simply being exposed to another language can have the same effect. To understand a speaker’s intention, you must take the speaker’s perspective.

Multilingual exposure enhances perspective-taking. Overall, the brain is a muscle. And the effect of learning another language strengthens the brain—just as running strengthens the heart. The superior social skills of bilinguals prove that learning a second language teaches individuals to be more compassionate, empathetic, and emotionally intelligent.