Skip to main content

Research and training network: language and brain

Final Activity Report Summary - RTN:LAB (Research and training network: language and brain)

The Marie Curie Research Training Network on Language and Brain (RTN-LAB) ran for four years, from 2005 to 2008. The purpose of the network was to train a group of young researchers towards becoming independent leaders of research in Europe. As their name suggests, Early stage researchers were at an early stage in their careers. In RTN-LAB, they were all PhD students. Experienced researchers had already done PhD training and were ready for the transition to independent research. The network was spread across 12 universities and research centres in 6 different European countries, with 15 senior scientists supervising the work. There were 10 experienced researcher and 9 early stage researcher positions.

The scientific focus if the network was concerned with how language is processed by the mind and brain when people are speaking, listening and reading. Studies were carried out on a wide range of language users, including normal and dyslexic children, healthy adults and adults experiencing language problems as a consequence of stroke, Alzheimer's disease or other forms of brain damage. An equally wide range of techniques was employed, from laboratory studies of reading and naming, through computer modelling, to brain imaging methods that allow us to observe language processing as it happens in the human brain.

The network as a whole met at training meetings, where the young researchers learned about the different methods available for studying the mind and brain, and at scientific meetings where they developed the important skill of presenting their research to an audience and listened to lectures by senior researchers in the field. These meetings were so successful that the young researchers took the initiative to organise two additional training meetings towards the end of the project. Visits of young researchers to other network labs were also frequent.

The career development of young scientists depends critically on publishing their work in leading scientific journals. The young researchers were given training on how to write clear and intelligible articles and were encouraged to submit their work for publication. They were also encouraged to present their work at major scientific conferences. Over the course of the four years, the young researchers have published 81 scientific papers, with at least 22 more being in preparation. As a result of this success, the experienced researchers have all progressed into university lectureships, research fellowships and other positions where they will be able to continue to make their mark as independent scientists. Three of the early stage researchers have already been awarded their PhDs, and the rest are on course to submit their theses in the coming months. All the young researchers intend to stay in scientific research, in many cases building on the collaborative relationships they have formed within the network.

The research of the network has illuminated many different aspects of language and brain, including:
- how dyslexia manifests itself in languages with clear, transparent spelling systems like Italian and Spanish;
- how skilled readers of those languages recognise written words and access their meanings;
- the role of the two halves (hemispheres) of the brain in understanding and producing language;
- the relationship between the brain systems which process language and the systems which handle perception and action;
- how bilinguals select and control the different languages available to them;
- the breakdown of language processing following brain damage in people with strokes, Alzheimer's disease and other neurological conditions; and,
- the treatment of those conditions through therapy.