Language learning makes the brain grow

(Medical Xpress)—At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, young recruits learn a new language at a very fast pace. By measuring their brains before and after the language training, a group of researchers have had an almost unique opportunity to observe what happens to the brain when we learn a new language in a short period of time.

At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy in the city of Uppsala, young people with a flair for languages go from having no knowledge of a language such as Arabic, Russian or Dari to speaking it fluently in the space of 13 months. From morning to evening, weekdays and weekends, the recruits study at a pace unlike on any other language course.

As a control group, the researchers used medicine and cognitive science students at Umeå University – students who also study hard, but not languages. Both groups were given before and after a three-month period of intensive study. While the of the remained unchanged, specific parts of the brain of the language students grew. The parts that developed in size were the hippocampus, a deep-lying brain structure that is involved in learning new material and , and three areas in the cerebral cortex.

"We were surprised that different developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to put in to keep up with the course", says Johan Mårtensson, a researcher in psychology at Lund University, Sweden.

Students with greater growth in the and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language learning (superior temporal gyrus) had better language skills than the other students. In students who had to put more effort into their learning, greater growth was seen in an area of the motor region of the (middle frontal gyrus). The areas of the brain in which the changes take place are thus linked to how easy one finds it to learn a language and development varies according to performance.

Previous research from other groups has indicated that Alzheimer's disease has a later onset in bilingual or multilingual groups.
"Even if we cannot compare three months of intensive language study with a lifetime of being bilingual, there is a lot to suggest that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in shape", says Johan Mårtensson.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal NeuroImage.

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/S1053811912006581

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What is unique in the brain of an Arabic speaker?

Nov 04, 2009

Literary Arabic is expressed in the brain of an Arabic speaker as a second language and not as a native language. This has been shown in a new study by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim of the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the ...

Recommended for you

New viral tools for mapping brains

13 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—A brain-computer-interphase that is optogenetically-enabled is one of the most fantastic technologies we might envision today. It is likely that its full power could only be realized under ...

Link seen between seizures and migraines in the brain

Oct 30, 2014

Seizures and migraines have always been considered separate physiological events in the brain, but now a team of engineers and neuroscientists looking at the brain from a physics viewpoint discovered a link ...

Neuroscience: Why scratching makes you itch more

Oct 30, 2014

Turns out your mom was right: Scratching an itch only makes it worse. New research from scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that scratching causes the brain to release ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tausch
not rated yet Oct 13, 2012
"Even if we cannot compare three months of intensive language study with a lifetime of being bilingual,..." - Johan Mårtensson


With all due respect - you can compare three months to a lifetime. It is possible. There is a way.

Total language immersion is the historical method of 'learning'.
You just don't know what part of total immersion is totally useless and what parts impart/imprint that outcome you wish to obtain. 13 months is good - for flawless native tongue abilities.
A month is better. That way you can learn twelve new languages in the time you learned only one.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.