Brain and language

The benefits of speaking a foreign language are well-known. Communication with a wider audience can be achieved, travelling without worrying about communication issues, having higher prospects of a better job, etc. But what are the effects of learning foreign language in your brain? Swedish scientists have discovered that learning a foreign language can increase the size of your brain. Technology like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology can reveal all. MRIs can show us what is happening in our brains when we hear, understand and produce second languages.

In the study published in 2012, at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy in the city of Uppsala. Young people with a skill for languages go from having no knowledge of a language to speaking it fluently in the space of 13 months. As a control group, other students who study hard, but not languages, are monitored as well. Both groups were given MRI scans before and after a three-month period of intensive study. While the brain structure of the control group remained unchanged, specific parts of the brain of the language students had grown.

The parts that increased in size were the hippocampus. This is a deep-lying brain structure that is involved in learning new material and spatial navigation, and three areas in the cerebral cortex. The areas of the brain that grew were linked to how easy the learners found languages. Brain development varied according to their performance. By looking at MRI scans, we can also know which parts are active during a given learning task.

Jump into language

Whatever benefits speaking a foreign language may have for an individual within society, it has been proven that people who speak more than one language fluently have better memories and are more cognitively creative and mentally flexible than monolinguals. Moreover, some studies have shown that diseases such as Alzheimer’s are diagnosed later for bilinguals than monolinguals. So don’t hesitate, start learning a foreign language and help yourself stay cognitively healthy for longer.