Short-term language learning aids mental agility, study suggests

language
Credit: Paul Brennan/public domain

Mental agility can be boosted by even a short period of learning a language, a study suggests.

Tests carried out on students of all ages suggest that acquiring a new improves a person's attention, after only a week of study.

Researchers also found that these benefits could be maintained with regular practice.

A team from the University of Edinburgh assessed different aspects of mental alertness in a group of 33 students aged 18 to 78 who had taken part in a one-week Scottish Gaelic course.

Researcher's tracked people's attention levels with a series of listening tests including the ability to concentrate on certain sounds and switch the attention to filter relevant information.

They compared the results with those of people who had completed a one week course - but not involving learning a new language - and with a group who had not completed any course.

After one week, improvements in attention were found in both groups participating in intensive courses, but only those learning a second language were significantly better than those not involved in any courses.

This improvement was found for all ages, from 18 to 78 years, which researchers say demonstrates the benefits of also in later life.

Nine months after the initial course all those who had practised five hours or more per week improved from their baseline performance.

The researchers say this shows the mental skills gained from language learning can be maintained if speakers practise continuously.

Lead researcher, Dr Thomas Bak of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences said the results confirm the of language learning.

He said: "I think there are three important messages from our study: firstly, it is never too late to start a novel mental activity such as learning a new language. Secondly, even a short intensive course can show beneficial effects on some cognitive functions. Thirdly, this effect can be maintained through practice."

The study was completed with the help of students from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, theNational Centre for Gaelic language and culture on the Isle of Skye, which forms part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Professor Boyd Robertson, Principal of the College said: "I welcome the study's identification of the cognitive benefits gained from Gaelic on our short courses. HMI audits have previously found that students have derived social benefits from these courses and this new research confirms that short course study at the College confers threefold benefits - linguistic, cognitive and social."


Explore further

How learning languages translates into health benefits for society

More information: Novelty, Challenge and Practice: The Impact of Intensive Language Learning on Attentional Functions, PLOS ONE, dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153485
Journal information: PLoS ONE

Provided by University of Edinburgh
Citation: Short-term language learning aids mental agility, study suggests (2016, April 27) retrieved 25 August 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-04-short-term-language-aids-mental-agility.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
67 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 01, 2016
It all depends on HOW you learn a language. Resorting to brute force memorisation tactics or to grammar analysis will bring little rewards in any area i would suggest. The rewards come to those who work to use the language and learn as they are using. Some study of course can help, but the main emphasis needs to be on the usage.
The best kind of course is talking to people, however watching movies, listening to songs, reading books ( no matter how easy) all fall into the category of using the language.

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