Synesthesia and Language Learning

I came across an interesting article today about a possible link between synesthesia and language learning.

The article reports a survey of students in Prague and British Columbia which found that those who learn a language or languages after reaching school age are somewhat more likely to have synesthesia than those who are bilingual from birth or a very early age.

The article speculates that synesthesia might be a learning aid that is particularly useful for people learning “opaque” languages. That is languages with complex spelling systems, like English, and not so useful for “transparent” languages like Czech, where the links between spelling and pronunciation are much more straightforward.

The English orthography is described as “a hot mess of weird rules, exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions”.

Do you think this is a fair description?

Do any of you have synesthesia?

If so, does it help with learning languages?

This entry was posted in English, Language, Language learning.

4 Responses to Synesthesia and Language Learning

  1. Jim Manheim says:

    Fascinating. I have an Indonesian friend who is a synaesthete and who uses English as powerfully as anyone I’ve ever heard among ESLers. Her grammar’s not perfect, but her ability to use the language as a living thing is nonpareil.

  2. Jim Manheim says:

    And interestingly, her form of synaesthesia is that she associates colors with letters of the alphabet, which would seem to support the idea advanced here.

  3. Adrienne says:

    I have color-grapheme synesthesia and I do find it relatively easy to learn languages, especially when it comes to vocabulary. I think the colors in the words help me to remember them. For instance, if I remember that a word is red I’ll know it probably starts with an ‘m’ and that will jog my memory. My native language is English and I started learning French (I’m guessing that would be considered ‘opaque’ as well) when I was 5 years old.

  4. Lev says:

    Yes, it’s a fair description 🙂 And so is French orthography.

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