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Surprising Science

Yet Another Reason to Learn a Second Language: It Makes Your Brain Bigger

Swedish scientists have found that learning a new language has a significant effect on the brain and improves language skills as a whole.

Learning a second language is vitally important for development and personal education. Not only do bilinguals possess stronger memories and exhibit greater mental flexibility than monolinguals, there’s evidence that learning a second language can also stall the onset of dementia. Picking up additional tongues makes you a better thinker and, as it turns out, significantly boosts your brain. From The Guardian

“[A] Swedish MRI study showed that learning a foreign language has a visible effect on the brain. Young adult military recruits with a flair for languages learned Arabic, Russian or Dari intensively, while a control group of medical and cognitive science students also studied hard, but not at languages. MRI scans showed specific parts of the brains of the language students developed in size whereas the brain structures of the control group remained unchanged.”

The researchers also found that learning a new language grows the parts of the brain related to language skills, meaning learning a new one helps you better utilize the language(s) you already know.

The Guardian article (linked again below) also delves into the use of MRI technology in helping understand the challenges and triumphs of language learning. For example, mapping the brain during lessons have helped scientists to understand why Japanese learners of English have trouble differentiating “R” and “L” sounds. Researchers were able to use that information to construct computer software to help Japanese learners hear the difference between the two sounds in as little as an hour.

For more on this story, check out the article in The Guardian

Photo credit: B Calkins / Shutterstock


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