Experiments conducted by researchers have shown that the brain uses the same neural networks to process both familiar and newly learnt words.
The series of experiments was conducted as part of the Academy of Finland's Neuroscience Research Programme (NEURO).
In one experiment, participants learnt the name and/or purpose of 150 ancient tools. They had never heard those words before.
Their brain function was measured by means of magnetoencelography during the naming of the tools, both before and after the learning period.
It was observed that their brains used the same neural networks to process both familiar and newly learned words.
Academy Professor Riitta Salmelin, HUT Low Temperature Laboratory, who is in charge of the research, revealed that the names of objects were processed in the left temporal and frontal lobe within half a second of showing the image of the tool to the subject.
"If the subject had only recently learned the name of the tool, the naming process induced an activation that was just as strong or stronger than the activation induced by the image of a familiar object," the researcher said.
Salmelin added that the learning of the meaning of ancient tools did not cause corresponding clear differences in the function of the brain.
According to the researcher, it seems that the processing of meanings in the brain differs essentially from the processing of names.
On the other hand, said Salmelin, the performance results indicated that new definitions were learnt even faster than new names.
The research team are now working on a follow-up study to explore the retention of learned words.
"We are also conducting a separate series of experiments to find out how our brain learns phonetic structures and, on the other hand, how the brain learns to identify letter combinations that are typical of a certain language," Salmelin said.
Another area of interest in the ongoing study is the role of grammar in language learning.
The researchers say that they will try to explore how the brain learns to use the vocabulary and grammatical structure of an experimental miniature language.