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Interhemispheric foreign language learning is a form of learning that activates both hemispheres of the brain , based especially on the discovery of the mirror neurons by Giacomo Rizzolatti.[1] It could be applied to many types of learning, but so far has been scientifically applied only to second language teaching and foreign language learning. Traditional foreign language learning, which focuses on learning vocabulary and grammar and using textbooks, mainly activates the left hemisphere. Interhemispheric learning, however, also stimulates the right hemisphere and enhances interaction between both hemispheres. Research shows that gestures and all nonverbal communication activate Brodmann area 44 and 45, responsible for language (Broca's area) in the left hemisphere. Research on mirror neurons also shows that mental imagining gestures without actually carrying out gestures also activate the same area of the brain.[1] Those results are used now for foreign language teaching and learning.

How does it work?[]

Interhemispheric second language learning is based on repeating vocabulary using a sequential variation of techniques [2] requiring active participation. It usually involves four phases:

  • Emotional intonation, gesturing and sign language [3] while speaking and rhythmical speech.
  • Learning in a state of relaxation, with mental visualization.
  • A phase during which students work in pairs, asking each other about the vocabulary learned and helping each other.
  • Finally, traditional teaching using textbooks is resumed, while integrating elements of interhemispheric learning such as speaking aloud, using gestures, writing sketches and practicing role-playing.

Demonstration video: YouTube

Interhemispheric second language learning is not a set of fixed procedures, but is open to complementary techniques such as mnemonics. It must be adapted by the teacher according to the age and the interests of his or her students.

The crucial factor: The behavior of the language teacher[]

As in the case of any new learning technique, a crucial factor for the success of interhemispheric learning is the suggestopedic behavior and attitude of the teacher on the verbal and especially on the non verbal level. The students must value the new techniques and respect the professional skill of the teacher. Otherwise, no good results will be possible.

Empirical studies[]

Interhemispheric learning is said to enhance and accelerate (accelerated language learning)performance. It seems that so far there have only been few empirical studies of the effectiveness of interhemispheric foreign language learning.[4] A study published in 2002 involved experiments in Germany with classes learning French as a third language. In six classes the students translated more than 60 new words from German into French after an interhemispheric learning period of 45 minutes, not counting spelling errors as mistakes.[5] In another experiment published in 2003 with a learning period of one hour, the students translated more than 80 new words with a context from German into French.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rizzolatti, Giacomo et al., The mirror system in humans, in: Mirror neurons and the evolution of brain and language, Amsterdam, John Benjamin, 2003, 37-59.
  2. Macedonia, Manuela, Fremdsprachen lernen und Gedächtnis, Linz, Trautner, 2004
  3. McGuire, P.K. et al., Neural correlates of thinking in sign language, in: Neuroreport, 8, 3, 695-698 (1997)
  4. Baur, Rupprecht, Superlearning und Suggestopädie, München, Langenscheidt, 1991
  5. Schiffler, Ludger, Effektiver eine Fremdsprache lehren und lernen – Beide Gehirnhälften aktivieren, Donuwörth: Auer, 2002
  6. Schiffler, Ludger, Interhemisphaerisches Lehren und Lernen im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Bericht über einen Unterrichtsversuch zum Vokabellernen. In: PRAXIS des neusprachlichen Unterrichts, 3/2003, 228-233

Further reading[]

  • Lozanov, Georgi, Suggestology and Outlines of Suggestopaedia, New York, Gordon & Breach Science Publisher, 1978(Translated from: Nauka i Iskustvi, Sofia, 1971.
  • Meier, Josef, Mehr Freude und Erfolg beim Englischlernen mit innovativen Lern- und Mentaltechniken, München IBS, 1999.
  • Schiffler, Ludger, Suggestopedic Methods and Applications, Philadelphia etc: Gordon & Breach Science Publisher, 1992 (Translated from: Suggestopädie und Superlearning – empirisch geprüft, Frankfurt am Main: Diesterweg, 1989.)
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