How does learning foreign languages ​​change brain function?

Professor from Northwestern University, USA, Viorica Marian has long studied how learning foreign languages ​​affects the brain. As early as 15 years ago, she noticed that people who know two languages ​​- we will tentatively call bilinguals – choose words more easily when speaking, because of their larger vocabulary, they are used to immediately sifting through the inappropriate options.

In their latest study, Professor Viorica Marian and her colleagues decided to explain what processes take place in people’s brains when selecting one or another word.

For this purpose, she divided the participants in the study into two groups – bilinguals and those who know only one language. To observe which areas of the brain are most strongly activated in the volunteers when performing set cognitive tasks

strong>, the scientists used magnetic resonance imaging /MRT/.

Participants in the study said any word out loud – for example “candy” – in English – and then were asked to quickly point to one of four pictures, among which either the image of the candies and the image of something that is very close in sound to the original word: for example, a candle / «candle» in English /.

The MRI showed that in the participants who knew only one language, several areas of the brain were activated, therefore more effort was required to select the correct image.

Professor Marian points out that the brain functions as a traffic light and for one language of bilinguals the green light turns on and for the other the red light.

When this activity has to be performed for an extended period of time, the bilingual learns quickly to block out those words that are not needed.

According to Professor Marian, this skill is useful not only in the selection of words, but in general for decision-making. Whether we are driving a car or having surgery, we need to be able to focus onthe important and ignore the secondary.

In addition, mastering a foreign language, according to scientists, can be a great substitute for mental training. You don’t need to solve crossword puzzles and strain yourself mentally as your brain juggles between 2 languages.

It is never too late to start learning a new language, as even 6 months will provide you with enough benefits.

According to Penn State University professor Ping Li, learning something new, anything, such as a foreign language, and putting that knowledge into practice develops the brain.

With the same magnetic resonance imaging machine, the professor and his colleagues observed the brain activity of 39 people whose native language was English and who were trying to learn Chinese.

The results show that language learning helps develop new connections between neurons in the brain. It is true that this process is more effective in the participants of the experiment, who are more devoted to learning foreign languages.

But, as previous studies by Professor Li and his colleagues have shown, the positive changes in the brain as a result of learning a new language are observed even in elderly volunteers.

According to scientists, an interesting finding is that the human brain is “more plastic” than previously thought, based on the results of earlier studies in this connection.

The observed positive changes in the brain, even in old age can also be considered as a very optimistic news and learning a foreign language can make the aging process more pleasant and exciting.

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