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A pill for tones / musical illusions

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Happened upon this article just now: http://www.medicaldaily.com/anticonvulsant-helps-adults-acquire-perfect-pitch-learn-new-language-just-another-story-popping


In short:


when you're young, your brain makes new connections easily. This would be counter-productive when you're older, and as you do get older, it becomes more difficult to make those connections. 


This effect is very obvious in language learning and the relative abilities of children and adults to master accent, pronunciation etc.


There's a drug which makes it easier for the brain to make new connections, used to treat certain medical conditions.


Researchers gave people the drug and trained them on perceiving 'perfect pitch' and after two weeks the group on the drug did much better than the placebo group.


So maybe in the future people learning Chinese will pop a pill and a couple of months later will have perfect tones. I hate those people in the future already!



I don't know why the article focuses just on tones though -- surely it applies to the ability to identify and reproduce the nuanced sounds of any language, tonal or not. In fact, I think I remember someone speculating that the really gifted language learners are those who are exceptionally good at mimicry.


Anyway one good thing about the article's fixation on tonal languages it is ends up linking to the work of Diana Deutsch, a couple of whose CDs I have, who has found all kind of musical illusions, kind of counterparts to the (visual) illusions most people are familiar with. Very cool stuff, even though unrelated to the stuff about this brain drug.








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Very interesting.


Understanding that critical periods close when a particular enzyme, HDAC, acts as a “brake” on plasticity, the team hypothesized that if a drug, such as valproate, can block the production of those enzymes, might it be capable of reopening the window of critical period?

If I had some easily available, I would probably try them out of desperation.


This year I'm struggling with a new teacher to improve my tones in normal speed and rapid speech. She is first and foremost a musician (sings Chinese opera) and is only teaching language for the extra income. Our lessons are something like one might get from a vocal coach.


For example, she has lately been focusing my non-plastic, somewhat-sclerotic brain on the issue of how long I hold the second tone. "It's not enough for it to start at the proper low pitch and rise to the proper higher pitch, you need to increase its duration a bit as well for it to sound natural."


We are practicing by reading lots of poetry. We also play with "tongue twisters."



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Sounds similar to a process I went through with a woman who tutored Chinese students (of education) through the Putonghua test. Very painful, but worth it. It's fantastic to find someone who can give you such detailed feedback on your tones; you should get as much value out of that as you can. 

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