How To Grow Your Brain With Language Learning


As researchers have studied the way that brain processes and understands language, as well as the way that language is formed within the brain, it has become clear that this acquisition can have a very big impact on this area of the body. It is believed that by learning a new language while a child is young, individuals not only show an improvement in cognitive skills, but they are also able to show a much higher achievement in other areas of learning. This alone should show the positive impact of language acquisition on the brain, but researchers have now found that learning a new language can actually help the brain grow.

The Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy

A study conducted at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy has shown the potential for language acquisition and brain growth. At this academy, recruits are taught new languages in a very short space of time. The study that was conducted to find out how this affected their brains started off by measuring the brains of the group before and after they learned a new language.

It should be noted that during the space of 13 months, the recruits at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy are actually taught a completely new language within the space of 13 months. The languages include Arabic, Dari and Russian, among others. This sort of program is very intense because it is delivered constantly, on evenings and over weekends, while others tend to last for years before the students are able to speak fluently.

By the end of these 13 months, these students should be able to speak the language of their choice fluently. It is courses such as these that make for the best test groups because they are short and intensive, and allow for marked results to appear within a specified time frame.

The Control Group

In order to ensure that the results of the test were accurate, the researchers obtained a control group, which consisted of students from a local university. The students were completing courses at the same time, although their focus wasn't on language. This control group was important because it allowed the researchers to study the effects of language acquisition alone.

Before the intensive study period began, both groups underwent an MRI scan, which was completed again after three months of their very intensive course. The test was administered again after the completion of the course so that researchers could have a visual image of the results of the language acquisition course.

The Results

The results of the study found that while the actual structure of the brains of both groups remained the same, those areas that were dedicated specifically to language actually grew in the process. The medical students that were used in the control group showed no difference in the size of their brains.

The specific area of the brain that was able to increase in size is called the hippocampus. This area of the brain is responsible for learning new concepts, as well as spatial navigation. What was interesting, according to the researchers, is that the brains developed differently, depending on whether or not the student performed particularly well, and whether they put a lot of effort into the course.

It was shown that those participants who displayed a much larger growth within the hippocampus were also able to display superior language abilities when compared with other students within their classes. In instances where students had to put a lot more effort into learning a new language, the motor region within the cerebral cortex saw more growth. It is yet unclear why this is the case.

Alzheimer's in Bilingual Groups

Research conducted on bilingual, as well as multilingual groups with Alzheimer's has shown that this disease actually has a later onset when compared with individuals who can only speak one language. This research is particularly interesting because it points to possible options in terms of treating the condition, even if this simply means keeping the brain in the best possible shape. This is something that is recommended to individuals with and without diseases such as Alzheimer's. In fact, experts often recommend these exercises for everyone, regardless of their age or health status.

The findings of this study have been published in NeuroImage, a scientific journal.

Further Research Required

In order to determine why there is a difference between those individuals who had to put more effort into learning the language and those who did better during the course, researchers will need to conduct further research on these matters. The answer might lie in the various areas of the brain that are utilized as the student goes through the process of completing the course, but it could also point to a student's natural ability to learn a new language.

For many years now, researchers have believed that humans have a natural ability to pick up languages because of what is called a LAD, or language acquisition device. This term was coined by Noam Chomsky who believed that individuals were born with this ability and it allowed people to pick up their mother tongue fairly quickly, even though many rely on complicated rules and a wide range of anomalies.

Keeping Your Brain Fit

Many researchers suggest that individuals keep their brain "fit" by keeping it active. This means that individuals would benefit from attempting puzzles, riddles or learning new things every day. The acquisition of a new language has very positive effects on the size brain and could even stave off Alzheimer's for longer periods of time, but these are only two benefits of this investment. Overall, learning a new language presents individuals with challenges that they can face and overcome, and this not only allows the brain to grow, but also activates the reward-processing center in the brain that could improve a person's overall mood.

To keep the brain fit, it needs to be exercised, just like any other muscle within the body. Learning a new language just happens to be one of the more effective methods of giving your brain a very good workout indeed.