Meet Chisom: Helping people learn Japanese with neuroscience... & aliens!

Chisom explains how blasting aliens might help people learn to differentiate between Japanese sounds

What if you could learn another language by blasting your way through a space video game? 

Chisom is testing just that: to see if a game can teach you Japanese sounds subconsciously, so it’s easier for adults to learn. 

“I think it’s important to learn a second language, because we’re such a global community.”

“But for adults, there are a lot of things to overcome in your brain to learn a second language. If you can maybe learn it more implicitly, that might be more effective.”

The game works to instill language skills with neuroscience techniques. Players shoot at objects that swoop in from different areas on the screen, which are preceded by subtly different Japanese tones. If the experiment works, they are eventually able to respond to the tone by shooting at the objects before they even see them

In Chisom’s lab, previous tests have shown the game helps adults learn in Mandarin. Chisom’s Japanese research didn’t replicate that — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

“I got an answer! It wasn't the answer I wanted, but it’s a motivator to continue on, and to branch out.”

She plans to try it again with native English speakers who are already learning some Japanese, since they will have more experience with the sounds. 

“Research is hard! That’s just part of the process. You don't really get that view when you're just a research assistant. Even though the end result was not what I expected, it's actually really fulfilling to say this is MY research project. I had a lot of bumps, but I was able to persevere with the support I had from the fellowship.”

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