Learning New Language Has Significant Impact on Brain Structure

First Posted: Aug 31, 2013 06:02 AM EDT

The age at which children learn a new language can have a significant impact on the adult brain structure, suggests a new finding.

It has been suggested before by experts that a great way to make one's brain healthier is by learning a new language. Second language boosts brain power. A previous study conducted by researchers at Lund University showed that learning a new language actually makes parts of the brain grow. According to a new joint study, learning a new language alters brain development.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital - The Neuro at McGill University in collaboration with researchers at Oxford University.

According to the study, the task of acquiring a second language after infancy fuels a novel neural growth and links among neurons similar to the one observed at the time of acquiring complex motor skills. For the study, the researchers used software that was developed at The Neuro. They examined the MRI scans of 66 bilingual men and women as well as 22 monolingual men and women living in Montreal region.

On examining the MRI scans the researchers learnt that after infancy, the left inferior frontal cortex turns thicker while the right inferior frontal cortex thins down.

The pattern of brain development is similar when a new language is learnt from birth. However, learning a second language at later stages of childhood after acquiring expertise in the first language modifies the brain structure especially the brain's inferior frontal cortex. The cortex is the multi layered mass of neurons that plays a vital role in several cognitive functions like language, thought, memory and consciousness. On learning a new language, the left inferior frontal cortex becomes thicker and the right inferior frontal cortex becomes thinner.

Dr. Denise Klein, researcher in The Neuro's Cognitive Neuroscience Unit and a lead author of the study concluded saying, "The later in childhood that the second language is acquired, the greater are the changes in the inferior frontal cortex. Our results provide structural evidence that age of acquisition is crucial in laying down the structure for language learning."

The finding was published in the journal Brain and Language.

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