Improve Your Brain by Learning a New Language

  • Posted on: 13 November 2014
  • By: JohnSimonson

Becoming fluent in more than one language is useful for several reasons: it increases our ability to communicate with a diverse group of people and improves our intercultural understanding. Now, Penn State researchers have found that it is also good for our brains. The research was conducted a group of professors including Ping Li, a professor of psychology, linguistics and information sciences and technology at Penn State University.

The study tracked the brains of 39 participants who were native English speakers. Half of the subjects learned Chinese vocabulary over a period of six weeks while the other half did not. When the researchers compared both groups, they found that participants who had successfully learned the vocabulary had a more connected brain network than those who had not been as successful and those who hadn't been learning any vocabulary at all.

Brain Creates More Connections When You Learn A Language

The researchers were able to observe the changes in the brain networks of participants using fMRI scans. Each subject was scanned before the experiment began and then right at the end of the six-week study. The results of the scans were then compared to determine differences between each participant's brain before and after the experiment. The fMRI scans showed that the brain networks of successful vocabulary learners had actually become better connected.

Notice the increased connections in the brain of those who successfuly learn a new language (source)

Interestingly enough, participants who had started out with more connected brain networks were also more likely to be part of the successful learner group. This is because brains are more efficient when the network is better-integrated. To measure how efficient a participant's brain network was, the researchers looked at the strength of edges between regions of interests in the brain, also known as nodes. If the connections between nodes are stronger, then the efficiency of the network is enhanced because the nodes are able to work together more quickly. One important implication of this study is that the brain is flexible and can change. And learning languages is one way to make it better.

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