Is Half a Brain Enough to Acquire a Language?

A Person with Only Half a Brain is Like a Two Dimensional
Being Walking in a Three Dimensional World

Two dimensional outcomes

Likewise, becoming a three dimensional language speaker doesn’t happen very successfully by leaning only on one side of the brain. I know this sounds quite contradictory since most language skills derive specifically from the LEFT side of the brain!

In fact, it would seem your students only need the LEFT side of the brain to acquire a language! But my experience screams to the contrary. Without both sides of the brain it is hard to acquire anything in depthsuccessfully and joyfully.

We all have to put up with a certain amount of drudgery out of necessity and discipline, but  generally speaking who wants to do things that are not joyful? Certainly your students don’t. 

Most language programs put so much emphasis on the LEFT side of the brain that students are often stressed, especially when there are high expectations for their success. May I suggest a simple solution: put a little more emphasis on the RIGHT side of the brain. It can revive even the most lethargic students. I’ve even seen cases where it has prevented students from dropping out of school. 

My question is: which one of the charts below sounds like more FUN? 

HINT: Fun is motivational; without motivation we don’t practice enough; without enough practice we don’t acquire much; without acquisition there is no mastery!

Attributes of the Right and Left Brain
Compiled from ‘My Stroke of Insight’ (Jill Bolte Taylor)

How can we reconcile the attributes from these two seemingly different charts? 

You are probably going to accuse me of recommending having lots of FUN as the best way to learn a language and you are probably RIGHT! 

But when you glance at the bottom chart with the attributes of the LEFT brain, you’re probably thinking: “Oh no! That sounds like a lot of work!” Is this Deja-vu? Do adult learners have to feel like they are going back to school? Can’t they just learn a language like a child, through osmosis?

But children don’t go around memorizing grammar rules and pronoun functions!

Yet when you look at the top chart you must agree that the attributes of the RIGHT brain are what children express in their daily lives. And it is not until they go to school that they begin ‘learning’ skills like those listed for the LEFT brain.

By the time they are adult second language learners they expect to have to memorize grammar rules from textbooks in order to succeed. That may be the nature of the learning style they have used for many years. And they probably have to do just that, unless you introduce them to activities that can lead to the same goals in a more effortless and lasting manner, namely RIGHT brain activities to learn LEFT brain skills.

Following are five deciding factors that will make your language teaching successful and have all your students breathing energy into their language learning: 

  1. They are a born prodigy in the target language
  2. They love the sound, smell and taste of the language
  3. You have personally invested them in the content
  4. You are providing a lot of FUN in the learning process.
  5. Your curriculum and administration allows you lots of freedom

The first one is totally out of your control; prodigies don’t grow on trees.
The second one is partially in your control, if you manage to motivate them.
The third one is totally in your control and should be practiced as a daily habit.
The fourth on is in your control if you cultivate the art of creatively and working outside the box.
The last one may be mostly in your control if you can get your agenda humming behind the adminstrative wheels. 

If you are lucky you may have all five of these in any given teaching situation! 

That being said the next issue looms ahead, loud and clear: PRACTICE. Language is a skill, not a cognitive knowledge stored away in the brain. As a skill, it requires a lot of practice before achieving mastery. This can become very boring and monotonous but when you practice with the RIGHT brain time flies and before you know it, the goal is reached in a fast enjoyable manner.

Your students will need to engage the LEFT brain to understand the concepts and instructions. Once they know what they need to master, you can lead them to proceed through the power the RIGHT side of the brain. This will be organic and holistic and bring about three dimensional language speakers who can function in a three dimensional global community. Mastery does not have to be a pipe dream if you function with the whole brain and lean heavily on the RIGHT.  That is where all the fun is. 

Teach left brain language skills through right brain practices and activities to empower
a ‘whole’ learner capable of acquiring a ‘whole’ language.

Please read the inspirational book by brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, to understand the importance of both sides of the brain and the strong spiritual impact of the powerful RIGHT brain.

Her book validated my attachment to the RIGHT brain and made me realize why the arts are such a integral part of learning and such an inspiration. I will cover more about the arts in second language teaching in subsequent blogs. For now, get your free copy of my book: “How to Think in English offered on this site.

The activities in my book were created to employ both sides of the brain for mastery of core English skills. If you have not claimed your book, do so now in the resources section of my site:  or CLICK HERE.

You can also request a FREE 15 MINUTE CONSULTATION to help work out strategies for your school or university ESL/EFL programs.

Taylor, Jill Bolte (2006): My Stroke of Insight. New York: Viking-Penguin.

One thought on “Is Half a Brain Enough to Acquire a Language?

  1. Olga

    Good information, I did not know all this, thanks.

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