Carnegie Mellon University's Lori Holt and Sung-Joo Lim and Stockholm University's Francisco Lacerda have designed a video game that features an "alien" language that provides clue to the challenges that infants face when learning for the first time.
Carnegie Mellon University's Lori Holt and Sung-Joo Lim and Stockholm University's Francisco Lacerda designed a video game narrated in deliberately distorted acoustics.
The soundtrack, unintelligible in any language, was the only source of instruction for 77 adult players in the study. With just two hours of play, the participants could reliably extract world-length sound categories from continuous alien sounds and apply that learning to advance through the game.
Results suggested that understanding how language is learned might pave the way from treating dyslexia - which causes difficulty identifying functional sound units - to improving second language learning.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to approximate the task facing infants by creating a setting where adults are forced to infer what the meaning of different sound elements might be, and to do it in a functional way," said Lacerda, professor of phonetics and an expert in language acquisition.
"Traditionally, when we study adult learning in the lab, it's nothing like how infants learn language. This video game training builds a bridge between the two populations-babies and adults-by modeling for adults the challenge language learning poses to infants," added Holt, a specialist in auditory cognitive neuroscience.
Intriguingly, the results also suggested that the video game and its alien soundtrack might engage different areas of the brain in rapid and robust learning.
The findings will be presented at the Acoustical Society of America's annual meeting May 23-27 in Seattle.