Paulesu et al.’s (2009) article “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: How the brain learns words never heard before” examines how different regions of the brain react when exposed to different types of words. The main target audience of the article is readers with a background in neuroscience or with a strong foundation in anatomy. The articles’ authors gave subjects lists of words and non-words to learn, and observed what parts of their brains were activated. In general, they found that learning the words/non-words individually activated different parts of people’s brains than learning words/non-words in pairs, and that people have a harder time retaining non-words because it is harder for people to associate them with words they already know. While much of the article is very technical and scientific, there are practical educational takeaways from it. People whose phonological (related to the sound and structure of words) processing is impaired tend to have difficulty learning new words. However, when they learn new words by pairing them with words they already know, they are better at retaining new vocabulary because the mental association with familiar words cements them into their mind. This provides us with a great way of learning new words and concepts: pairing them with familiar, old ones to ease learning.
Summarized by Chester Madrazo
Paulesu, E., Vallar, G., Berlingeri, M., Signorini, M., Vitali, P., Burani, C., … Fazio, F. (2009). Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: How the brain learns words never heard before. NeuroImage, 45(4), 1368–1377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.12.043