Learning foreign languages may sharpen your brain by enhancing its elasticity and ability to code information, a new study suggests. The more foreign languages we learn, the more effectively our brain reacts and processes the data accumulated in the course of learning, researchers said. The neurophysiological mechanics of language and speech acquisition are underexplored when compared to the brain’s other functions.
The reason for such scarce attention is the inability to study verbal function on test animals. Researchers from the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Russia together with colleagues from the University of Helsinki in Finland carried out experiments where the brain’s electrical activity was measured with electroencephalography (EEG).
Ten male and 12 female participants, with the average age being 24, took part in the investigation. The subjects had electrodes placed on their heads and then listened to recordings of different words in their native language, as well in foreign languages, both known and completely unknown by the subjects.
When the known or unknown words popped up, changes in the brain’s activity were tracked. Researchers focused on the speed at which the brain readjusted its activity to treat unknown words.
Afterwards, the accrued neurophysiological data was compared to the subject’s linguistic background: how many languages they knew, at which age they started to learn them, and so on.
Apparently, the ability of the brain to quickly process information depends on one’s “linguistic anamneses,” researchers said. The experiment shows that the brain’s electrical activity of those participants who had already known some foreign languages, was higher.
Yuriy Shtyrov, one of the authors of the study, said that the more languages someone mastered, the faster the neuron network coding the information on the new words was formed. This new data stimulates the brain’s physiology: loading the mind with more knowledge boosts its elasticity. Scientists believe that understanding how the brain functions in acquiring language is of crucial importance in diagnosing speech impediments after accidents, strokes, and other related conditions, and finding ways to treat them.
“Moreover, when we achieve better insight into the principles of creating and strengthening neuron networks, we will be able to harness these mechanisms, speed them up and improve the learning process,” researchers said. The finding was published in the journal Scientific Reports.