The many ways in which languages boost brain power – who’s saying what:
How morality changes in a foreign language: “Moral judgments made in a foreign language are less laden with the emotional reactions that surface when we use a language learned in childhood”.
Language learning boosts brain plasticity and ability to code new information: Researchers have found that language acquisition enhances brain plasticity and capacity for learning. In particular, they note that early language learning plays a significant role in the rapid formation of memory circuits for coding new information.
The first language you learn changes how you hear all other languages afterwards: An MRI experiment shows that the language you hear as a baby makes a permanent imprint on your brain.
People who learn foreign languages have bigger brains: According to recent research, learning another language causes a measurable increase in the size of your brain.
The biological base of learning maths and language is a single symbolic processing system: The fundamental procedure by which we learn to decode letters, numbers, and signs, and to derive meaning from these symbols.
Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: “We found that the bilingual patients had been diagnosed 4.3 years later and had reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than the monolingual patients. The groups were equivalent on measures of cognitive and occupational level, there was no apparent effect of immigration status, and the monolingual patients had received more formal education. There were no gender differences.”
Read a book in a second language to avoid emotion; read in your native tongue to improve empathy: The way readers react to fictional emotions depends on the language they read it in.
Switch your languages, change your perspective: How the language you speak changes your view of the world.
A new study (paywall) suggests that children who speak multiple languages are better at understanding other people: Not only those who are fluent in that language, but also those who are simply exposed to another language in their daily lives.
Boys and girls learn language differently: Research shows that: “girls are more likely to remember whole words like ‘walked’ compared to boys who tend to compose ‘walked’ from ‘walk’ and ‘-ed’. These findings align with previous research that has shown females are better than males at memorizing facts and events.”
Music moves our bodies and minds: ” The periodic beat induced by musical rhythms engages our attention, which stimulates our brains’ responses… NeuroNet’s Classroom Enrichment programs include rhythmic sequential exercises that incorporate literacy and mathematical skills.”
Children exposed to several languages are better at seeing through others’ eyes: A study by the University of Chicago finds that bilingual children, and also those simply exposed to another language on a regular basis, have an edge at the business of getting inside others’ minds.
Learning a language could potentially help to ease the growing concern around isolation and loneliness among older people in the UK: From keeping loneliness at bay and delaying dementia, to reconnecting with your cultural roots, the Guardian speaks to three people to discover the wide benefits of language learning
After learning new words, brain sees them as pictures: When we look at a known word, our brain sees it like a picture, not a group of letters needing to be processed. That’s the finding from a Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, which shows the brain learns words quickly by tuning neurons to respond to a complete word, not parts of it.
If you speak Mandarin, your brain is different: Untangling the brain’s mechanisms for language has been a pillar of neuroscience since its inception: New research published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences about the different connections going on in the brains of Mandarin and English speakers, demonstrates just how flexible our ability to learn language really is.
Does bilingualism change native-language reading? Becoming a bilingual can change a person’s cognitive functioning and language processing in a number of ways. How knowledge of a second language influences how people read sentences written in their native language.
How does our language shape the way we think? “When the Viaduct de Millau opened in the south of France in 2004, this tallest bridge in the world won worldwide accolades. German newspapers described how it “floated above the clouds” with “elegance and lightness” and “breathtaking” beauty. In France, papers praised the “immense” “concrete giant.” Was it mere coincidence that the Germans saw beauty where the French saw heft and power? Lera Boroditsky thinks not…”
Children fluent in two languages learn better in noisy classrooms than pupils who speak just one, research suggests: Bilingual and monolingual pupils at a Cambridge primary school were asked to “identify the bad animal’ in a series of recorded statements – and the bilingual children coped best despite interruptions.
Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging? Bilinguals perform significantly better than predicted from their baseline cognitive abilities, with strongest effects on general intelligence and reading: Results suggest a positive effect of bilingualism on later-life cognition, including in those who acquired their second language in adulthood.
What happens in the brain when you learn a language? Tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology can reveal what is happening in our brains when we hear, understand and produce second languages.
Nicaraguan Sign Language shows that although children require a certain amount of linguistic input at a young age in order to learn language, they’re capable of generalising from incomplete information to something far richer and more complex – a testament to the magnificent potential of the human brain.
Research shows language requires both storing words in our brains and real-time composition: A new study has discovered a difference between how boys and girls store and retrieve words.
How studying or working abroad makes you smarter: Research shows that experience in other countries makes us more flexible, creative, and complex thinkers.
How language seems to shape one’s view of the world: Lera Boroditsky once did a simple experiment: She asked people to close their eyes and point southeast. A room of distinguished professors in the U.S. pointed in almost every possible direction, whereas 5-year-old Australian aboriginal girls always got it right.
It’s never too early for children to learn a second language, say experts: It’s never too early for infants to begin learning a second language as it can greatly improve cognitive skills later in life.
Multilinguals Have Multiple Personalities: Between 2001 and 2003, linguists Jean-Marc Dewaele and Aneta Pavlenko asked over a thousand bilinguals whether they “feel like a different person” when they speak different languages. Nearly two-thirds said they did.
A new University of Toronto study has found that by two years of age, children are remarkably good at comprehending speakers who talk with accents the toddlers have never heard before: Even more striking, say researchers, children as young as 15 months who have difficulty comprehending accents they’ve never heard before can quickly learn to understand accented speech after hearing the speaker for a short time.
Babies May Be More Language-Savvy Than Thought: Even 2-day-old babies know that some syllables just sound better than others, according to a new study from the University of Chile.
Relatively speaking: do our words influence how we think? Linguistic relativity can tell us about our perceptions of reality and the relationship between language and the way we think.
Babies can detect language differences – understanding that people who speak different languages use words differently: In a recent study at the University of Auckland, infants noticed that speakers did not share a language and did not generalise the rules of one language to another.
People make decisions differently depending on whether they are operating in a first or second language, a team from Barcelona’s Universidad Pompeu Fabra has found. “When people used their native language, their choices tended to be more affected by emotional factors, but we found the study participants tended to be more rational and ‘colder’ in their problem-solving when using their second language — in this case English” said study author Alberat Costa.
Epilepsy drug turns out to help adults acquire perfect pitch and learn language like kids: A team of researchers from across the globe believe they have discovered a means of re-opening “critical periods” in brain development, allowing adults to acquire abilities — such as perfect pitch or fluency in language — that could previously only be acquired early in life.
Speaking languages has a ‘positive effect’ on children: New research shows that the more languages children speak, the better they can speak them. The Multilingual Manchester research project found that maintaining a home language has no adverse effect at all on children’s proficiency in English – in fact, pupils of minority and immigrant background who scored high on the proficiency test for their home language also showed high scores for English proficiency.
Dual-language learners make key academic gains: A comprehensive review of research on young Latino and Spanish-speaking children confirms that widely available public programs are helping dual-language learners make important academic gains.
- There is evidence that early language learning improves cognitive abilities.
- There is evidence bilingualism correlates with increased cognitive development and abilities.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and the offset of age-related cognitive losses.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and attentional control on cognitive tasks.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and intelligence.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and metalinguistic skills.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and memory skills.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and problem solving ability.
- There is a correlation between bilingualism and improved verbal and spatial abilities.
How bilinguals switch between languages: Individuals who learn two languages at an early age seem to switch back and forth between separate “sound systems” for each language, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.
Music – a gift for language learners: When it comes to language learning, new research reveals that your best asset may be your vocal cords, not your dictionary!
Speaking another language may delay dementia: People who speak more than one language and who develop dementia tend to do so up to five years later than those who are monolingual, according to a study carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad (India). “These findings suggest that bilingualism might have a stronger influence on dementia that any currently available drugs. This makes the study of the relationship between bilingualism and cognition one of our highest priorities.” Thomas Bak, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.
Young children need conversation to up language: By speaking directly to their toddlers, parents can help them learn to process language more quickly, which speeds up vocabulary growth.
Being bilingual can make you better at “executive functions” (planning and prioritising) and defend against dementia in old age: but what about your personality? Many multi-linguals report different personalities, or even different worldviews, when they speak their different languages.
10 superb psychological advantages of learning another language: Learning another language can promote brain growth, stave off dementia, boost memory, improve attention and more…
The brain has a critical window for language development between the ages of two and four, brain scans suggest: Environmental influences have their biggest impact before the age of four, as the brain’s wiring develops to process new words, say UK and US scientists.
Cognitive neurologist Thomas Bak recommends bilingualism to help keep dementia at bay: “bilingualism is a kind of permanent experience of switching between languages and suppressing the one you aren’t using. Doing this offers you practically constant brain training.”
Your Mind on Language: How Bilingualism Boosts Your Brain: Language shapes the way we think. Whether we’re listening to a persuasive speaker, absorbed in powerful writing, or engaged in a conversation, language can introduce us to new ideas, perspectives, and opportunities.
Think twice, speak once: Bilinguals process both languages simultaneously: Bilingual speakers can switch languages seamlessly, likely developing a higher level of mental flexibility than monolinguals, according to Penn State linguistic researchers.
Poorer kids benefit from being bilingual: Investigators from the University of Luxembourg, the University of Minho in Portugal and York University in Canada have found that while being bilingual did not help low-income children when taking memory tests, these children performed better on a control task that required them to focus their attention when distracted.
Learning a new language alters brain development: Learning a second language later on in childhood after gaining proficiency in the first (native) language does in fact modify the brain’s structure, specifically the brain’s inferior frontal cortex.
Language can reveal the invisible, study shows: Words can play a powerful role in what we see – information is interpreted in light of other visual experiences, and may even be influenced by language.
Change of language, change of personality? Understanding the link between language and personality in bilinguals. Could bilinguals who speak two (or more) languages change their personality when they change language?
Researchers find that the recognition of nouns and verbs in Chinese is not confined to specific brain regions, as in English: rather they activate a wide range of overlapping areas, in both the left and the right hemisphere. The authors explained the involvement of the right hemisphere (language is usually lateralized in the left hemisphere in right-handers) because of the visual features of Chinese characters and the lexical tones carried by Chinese words.
Meet the Melbourne man who woke up from a coma speaking Mandarin: Ben McMahon was a passenger in a car when it was hit by a truck leaving him in a coma for more than a week. But when he woke from his coma, something had changed; he was speaking only mandarin.
How the brain benefits from being bilingual: Never mind how well spoken you might be now, you will never again be as adept with languages as the day you were born… and well into your grammar-school years, your ability to learn a second — or third or fourth — language is still remarkable.
Bilingual children have a two-tracked mind: A study examining how bilingual children learn the two different sound systems of languages they are acquiring simultaneously has discovered that children can learn two native languages as easily as they can learn one.
Age no excuse for failing to learn a new language: under controlled conditions, adults turn out to be better than children at acquiring a new language skill.
Language is in our biology: study results show a clear statistical correlation between a high level of language competence and a good working memory in the students tested .
Forgotten something? Try your other language: study finds interesting links between memory / information retrieval and language skills in bilingual people.
Study abroad positively impacts personality: Students who spend a semester or year abroad show positive changes in their personality on measures associated with the “Big Five” personality traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, and openness).
Trying to Learn a Foreign Language? Avoid Reminders of Home! Reminders of home, language and culture can hinder the ability to speak a new language, acting like “magnets of meaning,” instantly activating a web of cultural associations in the mind and influencing our judgments and behaviour.
Use It Or Lose It? Study suggests the brain can remember a ‘forgotten’ language: Many people learn a foreign language when young, but in some cases, exposure to that language is brief. New research suggests this “forgotten” language may be more deeply engraved in our minds than we realize.
Altitude may affect the way language is spoken: Until recently most linguists believed that the relationship between the structure of language and the natural world was mainly the influence of the environment on vocabulary. Now, a new study has shown that there is a link between geographical elevation and the way language is spoken.
Picking up a second language is predicted by an ability to learn patterns: A new study suggests that learning to understand and read a second language may be driven, at least in part, by our ability to pick up on statistical regularities.
Bilinguals see the world in a different way, study suggests: Learning a foreign language literally changes the way we see the world, according to new research.
Being Bilingual: the Neuroplastic workout: Recent research shows that our brains change and grow well into the golden years, and there is no better workout for the brain than learning a new language!
How bilinguals switch between languages: Individuals who learn two languages at an early age seem to switch back and forth between separate “sound systems” for each language, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.
Coming back to bilingualism: How a child returned to being bilingual
Studying languages can grow the brain: Scientists studied the brains of students in the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, who are required to learn new languages at an alarmingly fast rate. Many must become fluent in Arabic, Russian and the Persian dialect Dari in just 13 months. The researchers compared the brains of these students to the brains of medical students who also have to learn a tremendous amount in a very short period of time, but without the focus on languages.
Why speaking English can make you poor when you retire (a comparison beteen English and Mandarin speakers): “Prof Chen says his research proves that the grammar of the language we speak affects both our finances and our health. Bluntly, he says, if you speak English you are likely to save less for your old age, smoke more and get less exercise than if you speak a language like Mandarin, Yoruba or Malay. Prof Chen says his research proves that the grammar of the language we speak affects both our finances and our health.”
Babies’ brains may be tuned to language before birth:
Full-term babies — those born after 37 weeks’ gestation — display remarkable linguistic sophistication soon after they are born: they recognize their mother’s voice, can tell apart two languages they’d heard before birth and remember short stories read to them while in the womb.
5 examples of how the languages we speak can affect the way we think: “Economist Keith Chen starts today’s talk with an observation: to say, “This is my uncle,” in Chinese, you have no choice but to encode more information about said uncle. The language requires that you denote the side the uncle is on, whether he’s related by marriage or birth and, if it’s your father’s brother, whether he’s older or younger.”
Bilingual babies balance different languages: “A new study to shed light on the subject revealed that children who learn two languages at the same time develop the ability, which monolinguals do not, to identify a language through the duration and pitch of words, and their position in a sentence.” For more information, including results tables, please click here.
En Francais: The rise of England’s bilingual schools: “Children who speak two languages are at an intellectual and cultural advantage. We live in an international society so being able to give children the opportunity to speak another language is quite crucial.”
The person-language bond: The links between being bilingual and social interaction with two or more people.
Born with a preference for two languages: The authors of a study on bilingual parenting, found that the acquired interest in two languages that the infants had been exposed to could help them pay attention to the languages and hence acquire them in their first years of life, if they were raised in a bilingual environment.
Head start for little language learners: “New research examining auditory mechanisms of language learning in babies has revealed that infants as young as three months of age are able to automatically detect and learn complex dependencies between syllables in spoken language. By contrast, adults only recognized the same dependencies when asked to actively search for them.”
Speaking more than one language: a “shield” against Alzheimer’s?: The Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL) research centre seeks the participation of hundreds of persons aged over 65, both bilingual and monolingual, in order to investigate if bilingualism protects against neurodegenerative diseases.
The joys of being bilingual: “Learning a foreign language can improve students’ awareness of register, formality and so on,” says Barnes. “It’s useful for academic writing.”
Brain structure of infants predicts language skills at one year: Using a brain-imaging technique that examines the entire infant brain, researchers have found that the anatomy of certain brain areas – the hippocampus and cerebellum – can predict children’s language abilities at 1 year of age.
Speaking more than one language could prevent Alzheimer’s: “Neuroscientists think that having more reserve brain power helps compensate for age-related declines in thinking and memory, and may help protect against the losses caused by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.”
The cognitive benefit of lifelong bilingualism: “Seniors who have spoken two languages since childhood are faster than single-language speakers at switching from one task to another, according to a study published in the January 9 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. Compared to their monolingual peers, lifelong bilinguals also show different patterns of brain activity when making the switch, the study found.”
The cognitive benefits of being bilingual: “Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.”
How does our language shape the way we think? “People who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world… Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human.”
Language is shaped by brain’s desire for clarity and ease: “When faced with sentence constructions that could be confusing or ambiguous, the language learners… chose to alter the rules of the language they were taught in order to make their meaning clearer.”
Language learning makes the brain grow, Swedish study suggests: “At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, young recruits learn a new language at a very fast pace. By measuring their brains before and after the language training, a group of researchers has had an almost unique opportunity to observe what happens to the brain when we learn a new language in a short period of time.”
The cognitive benefits of learning more than one language: Lessons from abroad: an international review of primary languages providing evidence on language learning within various primary curricula across the world, citing a study which found that “the longer pupils study a foreign language, the higher their level of achievement in standardised tests in maths and English”. (p19)
Bilingual children outperform children who speak only one language in problem-solving skills and creative thinking, according to a new study. Researchers in Italy found that the 62 bilingual children tested were “significantly more successful in the tasks set for them”.
Are you smarter than a three month old? “New research examining auditory mechanisms of language learning in babies has revealed that infants as young as three months of age are able to automatically detect and learn complex dependencies between syllables in spoken language. By contrast, adults only recognized the same dependencies when asked to actively search for them.”
Speaking two languages also benefits low income children: “Living in poverty is often accompanied by conditions that can negatively influence cognitive development. Is it possible that being bilingual might counteract these effects? Although previous research has shown that being bilingual enhances executive functioning in middle-class children, less is known about how it affects lower income populations.”
How bilinguals are like hurdlers: “Hurdlers blend two types of competencies, that of high jumping and that of sprinting, into an integrated whole. When compared individually with sprinters or high jumpers, hurdlers meet neither level of competence, and yet when taken as a whole hurdlers are athletes in their own right… bilinguals are like hurdlers: unique and specific communicators (in that) bilinguals use their two (or more) languages, separately or together, for different purposes, in different domains of life, with different people.”
Are Some Brains Better at Learning Languages? Do people who learn many languages have different brains? The answer, experts say, seems to be yes, no and it’s complicated!
New study shows that bilinguals switch tasks faster than monolinguals: Children who grow up learning to speak two languages are better at switching between tasks than are children who learn to speak only one, according to a study funded in part by the US National Institutes of Health.
How Knowing a Foreign Language Can Improve Your Decisions: Thinking in another language changes how people weigh their options
Thinking in a Foreign Language Makes Decisions More Rational: experiments find that thinking in a second language reduces deep-seated, misleading biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived.
How bilinguals process language: people who speak two languages keep both languages active all the time.
Being bilingual ‘boosts brain power’: scientists believe that learning a second language can boost brain power.
The Bilingual Brain Is Sharper and More Focused, Study Says: The ability to speak two languages can make bilingual people better able to pay attention than those who can only speak one language, a new study suggests.
Study on the Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity: “There is an increasing body of evidence pertaining to a wide variety of people, in various cultural environments, and using different languages, revealing enhanced functioning of individuals who use more than one language, when compared to monolinguals. This suggests a greater potential for creativity amongst those who know more than one language, when compared with monolinguals”
Bilingualism Fine-Tunes Hearing, Enhances Attention: bilinguals’ rich experience with language “fine-tunes” their auditory nervous system and helps them juggle linguistic input in ways that enhance attention and working memory, according to a recent study.
Lifelong bilingualism confers protection against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease: bilingualism appears to contribute to cognitive reserve, which acts to compensate for the effects of accumulated neuropathology.
Bilingual babies: The roots of bilingualism in newborns: hearing two languages regularly during pregnancy puts infants on the road to bilingualism by birth.
Does bilingualism change native-language reading? Becoming a bilingual can change a person’s cognitive functioning and language processing in a number of ways.
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