Published on: September 10, 2016
by Science World Report:
People who can speak more than one language are often impressive, and it seems that they are, in more ways than one. A new study showed that language acquisition enhances brain plasticity and capacity for learning.
In a paper published by Scientific Reports, researchers from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia, and the University of Helsinki, Finland, described that they used electroencephalography to probe on the brain mechanisms involved in learning languages, in particular, how the brain makes and strengthens neural networks and increases the scope for harnessing learning.
The new study found that the more foreign languages we learn, the faster the brain responds and processes the data it absorbs during learning – in other words, loading the mind with more knowledge increases it ability to learn more.
The researchers conducted a series of experiments where they used EEG to measure the electrical brain activity of 10 males and 12 females, average age of 24, with a specifically designed word exposure exercise. Medical News Today noted that all volunteers were healthy native Finnish speakers with normal hearing who hadn’t learned a second or further language during infancy, coming from monolingual families, and not exposed to foreign languages. They all started learning non-native languages in school, including English, Swedish, German, Latin, Danish, and Greek.
Fitted with EEG electrode, the volunteers listened to recordings of various words from native languages and non-native languages, some of which they already knew, and other were new to them. The researchers tracked changes in the brain as each volunteer was exposed to the next word. They then analyzed the linguistic profile of the volunteers, such as the number of languages they could speak, how old they were when these languages were learned, and their proficiency in each.
Senior author and professor Yurij Shtyrov said that the results showed that the more languages the person mastered, the faster the brain circuit is in coding information on new words, and this stimulates the brain’s physiology.
The study concluded, “These results demonstrate a significant role of earlier language experience in neural plasticity in general and in the rapid formation of memory circuits for novel words in particular. Critically, previous language learning not only influences how strongly the brain responds to novel non-native speech input but tentatively also to new words with native phonology.”
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