Nav: Home

Language learning makes the brain grow

October 08, 2012

At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy in the city of Uppsala, young people with a flair for languages go from having no knowledge of a language such as Arabic, Russian or Dari to speaking it fluently in the space of 13 months. From morning to evening, weekdays and weekends, the recruits study at a pace unlike on any other language course.

As a control group, the researchers used medicine and cognitive science students at Umeå University - students who also study hard, but not languages. 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 grew. The parts that developed in size were the hippocampus, a deep-lying brain structure that is involved in learning new material and spatial navigation, and three areas in the cerebral cortex.

"We were surprised that different parts of the brain developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to put in to keep up with the course", says Johan Mårtensson, a researcher in psychology at Lund University, Sweden.

Students with greater growth in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language learning (superior temporal gyrus) had better language skills than the other students. In students who had to put more effort into their learning, greater growth was seen in an area of the motor region of the cerebral cortex (middle frontal gyrus). The areas of the brain in which the changes take place are thus linked to how easy one finds it to learn a language and development varies according to performance.

Previous research from other groups has indicated that Alzheimer's disease has a later onset in bilingual or multilingual groups.

"Even if we cannot compare three months of intensive language study with a lifetime of being bilingual, there is a lot to suggest that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in shape", says Johan Mårtensson.
-end-
The study was performed by a group of researchers at Lund University and the Umeå Centre for Functional Brain Imaging in collaboration with the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy. The findings have been published in the scientific journal NeuroImage. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811912006581

For more information, please contact Johan Mårtensson, johan.martensson@psychology.lu.se, +46 707 554401.

Lund University

Related Hippocampus Articles:

The hippocampus underlies the link between slowed walking and mental decline
The connection between slowed walking speed and declining mental acuity appears to arise in the right hippocampus, a finger-shaped region buried deep in the brain at ear-level, according to a 14-year study conducted by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
The brain's hippocampus can organize memories for events as well as places
Researchers at Japan's RIKEN Brain Science Institute have found that the hippocampus can generalize, putting not just places but also events into sequence by changing the neural code in the rat brain.
Plasma membrane protein may help generate new neurons in the adult hippocampus
New research published online in The FASEB Journal sheds important light on the inner workings of learning and memory.
Silent seizures recorded in the hippocampus of two patients with Alzheimer's disease
Massachusetts General Hospital investigators have identified silent, seizure-like activity in the hippocampus -- a brain structure significantly affected in Alzheimer's disease -- in two patients with Alzheimer's disease and no known history of seizures.
Brain tissue structure could explain link between fitness and memory
Studies have suggested a link between fitness and memory, but researchers have struggled to find the mechanism that links them.
Novel mode of antidepressant action may help patients unresponsive to SSRIs
Research at Osaka University identified a novel mode of action for a potential antidepressant that also leads to nerve cell growth in the mouse hippocampus.
Study identifies brain's connections which keep related memories distinct from each other
Neuroscientists at the University of Bristol are a step closer to understanding how the connections in our brain which control our episodic memory work in sync to make some memories stronger than others.
New system for forming memories
Until now, the hippocampus was considered the most important brain region for forming and recalling memory, with other regions only contributing as subordinates.
Moderate exercise improves memory dysfunction caused by type 2 diabetes
University of Tsukaba-led researchers showed that impaired glycometabolism and memory function in type 2 diabetic rats is improved by moderate exercise, possibly via enhanced lactate transport to neurons by MCT2.
Researchers uncover how hippocampus influences future thinking
Over the past decade, researchers have learned that the hippocampus -- historically known for its role in forming memories -- is involved in much more than just remembering the past; it plays an important role in imagining events in the future.

Related Hippocampus Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...