The Left, The Better: White-Matter Brain Integrity Predicts Foreign Language Imitation Ability

Cereb Cortex. 2017 Aug 1;27(8):3906-3917. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhw199.


Speech imitation is crucial for language acquisition and second-language learning. Interestingly, large individual differences regarding the ability in imitating foreign-language sounds have been observed. The origin of this interindividual diversity remains unknown, although it might be partially explained by structural predispositions. Here we correlated white-matter structural properties of the arcuate fasciculus (AF) with the performance of 52 German-speakers in a Hindi sentence- and word-imitation task. First, a manual reconstruction was performed, permitting us to extract the mean values along the three branches of the AF. We found that a larger lateralization of the AF volume toward the left hemisphere predicted the performance of our participants in the imitation task. Second, an automatic reconstruction was carried out, allowing us to localize the specific region within the AF that exhibited the largest correlation with foreign language imitation. Results of this reconstruction also showed a left lateralization trend: greater fractional anisotropy values in the anterior half of the left AF correlated with the performance in the Hindi-imitation task. From the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that foreign language imitation aptitude is tested using a more ecological imitation task and correlated with DTI tractography, using both a manual and an automatic method.

Keywords: DTI; arcuate fasciculus; language learning; lateralization; speech imitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior* / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilingualism
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Organ Size
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated
  • Speech* / physiology
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • White Matter / physiology
  • Young Adult