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Buy One, Get Three Free and the Human Brain

Buy One, Get Three Free and the Human Brain– Aarticle 12


It really is true, for mastering American English, you can “Buy one, get three free.”  Every time you push the blade and tip of the tongue forward in your mouth for the accurate TH no voice speech sound, you are also deliberately practicing the TH with a voice, the L, and the American English Short Vowel A as in “hat.”

That’s because of how the human brain controls speech.

                               What Part of the Brain Controls Speech?

Control of speech is part of a complex network in the brain.  The brain regions called lobes  which control speech include the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes which formulate  or put together what you want to say and are located usually in the left hemisphere (Cafasso, 2019).  —– More later about the importance of “usually”—which is actually critically important for human brains.

The motor cortex in your frontal lobe enables you to speak words. The brain’s language regions work together as a coordinated network with  some parts involved in multiple functions and redundancy in some processing pathways (Abbott, 2016).

To speak clearly, you must move the muscles of your mouth, tongue and throat. This is where the motor cortex participates.  Located in the frontal lobe, the motor cortex takes information from the Broca area, in the front part of the left hemisphere,  and tells the muscles of your face, mouth, tongue, lips, and throat how to move to form speech (Cafasso, 2019).

In particular, past studies have found that a part of the human brain called the ventral sensorimotor cortex, or vSMC, controls speech.  Using electrical stimulation, researchers found which general areas of the vSMC controlled which parts of the face and mouth.  But that kind of electrical stimulation couldn’t trigger meaningful utterances.  That finding reveals that speech sounds are not being stored in discrete brain areas, but rather arise from coordinated motor patterns involving multiple areas (Wein, 2013).

Electrical patterns in the brain transitioned within tens of milliseconds between distinct and different representations or patterns for different consonants and vowels. (Wein, 2013)

Importantly, regions of brain activity during speech have a hierarchical, overlapping structure organized by phonetic feature.   Examples of phonetic features for American English include whether the speech sound has a voice or no voice (like P vs D, F vs V), or for instance whether there is prolonged audible friction of air  as in S, Sh, F, V or in contrast, the speech sound is quick ( such as J, CH, P, D).  Also, scientists found that consonants that require similar tongue locations have overlapping areas of activity (for instance American English T, D, J, Ch for tip of tongue, and NG, K, G for back of the tongue).  Notably, patterns of brain activity differ the most between consonants and vowels. (Wein, 2013).

Wein also emphasized that although the researchers used English,  they found the key phonetic features observed were ones that linguists have observed in spoken languages around the world.

For acquisition of clear American English speech when it is a second or other language (ESL, English as a Second Language), a key skill to master is changing and making different the movement and positioning of the muscles,  and the tension of muscles in the tongue, lips, jaw, and the muscles in the throat for the vocal folds or chords.

To reiterate because it is so important: speech sounds and spoken words require coordinated motor patterns, which are hierarchical and overlapping.  An example of this coordinated motor or movement pattern is the coordinating of making a voice at the vocal folds in your throat with pushing out air from your lunghs and positioning of the top front teeth on the lower lip to make the American English speech sound V.

The research cited above gives physiological and brain insight for an important facet of learning or acquiring clear English pronunciation.  That is, researchers have discovered that the brain is organized for speech according to movements of the face and mouth which includes tongue, lips, jaw and for phonetic features which include voicing or no voice, and audible air friction such as in S, Z, SH, ZH which is SH with a voice.   You probably already know that positioning of muscles of the lips is a critical articulator difference which distinguishes the English speech sound of S from SH and Z from ZH.

Now to swing back to the “Buy one, get three free”  proclamation.  A practical application is that if you train your motor system in the brain for the accurate positioning of your tongue “forward” for TH with voice—such as “the”–  you are also training the positioning of the tongue  for TH with no voice – such as “think”–and also for the consonant L—as in “light” and “tall” and the tongue forward movement  for the American English Short Vowel A as in “hat.”  The same principle applies for the accurate pronunciation of  English speech sounds K, G, and NG  which uses the back of the tongue hitting the roof of the  back of the mouth.  Do one of those K, G, NG accurately and you are making stronger the neural connections in the motor cortex for two more speech sounds.

Do you want motivation or a reason for doing a lot of accurate speaking (including reading words and sentences)?   The “Buy one get two or three free”  motivation is powerful reason.

Recall that the same kind of bonus  to “Buy one get one free” motivates humans to buy products in grocery or other stores and online.

To add important actionable information:  Evidence indicates that daily practice of 400 to 800 times leads to reorganization of the brain connections after a stroke, also called “brain attack” or CVA, Cerebrovascular Accident (Vearrier et al 2005; Flint Rehab 2023.  If my arithmetic is accurate, to speak 400 speech sounds consecutively, as in connected speech, reading aloud, takes about 30 minutes.  If you are using a recorded video lesson or recorded audio lesson to accurately imitate, then the practice time is longer because you must listen and perhaps watch before you imitate.   With our more than 800 different student/learners for more than 20 years, most frequently they do 30 minutes of  deliberate practice with their voice speaking Clear English (Careful Leveled-Up Mode or Work-Out Mode) and add minutes for the listening to  audio recorded spoken English with or without video.   For humans, listening and imitating accurately clear English words is quite efficient for learning and mastery for accurate American English pronunciation.

The take-home message is quite good! The good news is that accurate American English is not some random collection of phonetic or speech sound featuresunknowable because they are random.   Instead, systematic learning – which has been our mission for more than 20 years–which uses the scientific evidence of brain organization and function for English speaking can lead to excellent efficiency in learning.  The systematic learning is the crux of the exercises and tasks for learning from video recorded lessons, different audio recorded lessons, and customized textbook with additional tasks for independent speech practice without imitation for deeper learning..

Yay for efficient and long lasting learning based on brain research and evidence and experience with student-learners.  Yay today for “Buy one, get two or three free!”  Way to go, human brain!  Way to go for human being learning!

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