Certain parts of the brain develop according to the way people study a foreign language. Researchers in Sweden found that, after three months of intensive language learning, there were increases in the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex of the subjects.
The paper, published in NeuroImage, is based on MRI scans to students at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, where they follow intensive language programs. The researchers gave them MRI scans before and after a three-month period of intensive study, and compared the results with scans given to students of medicine and cognitive science; unlike the foreign language students, their brain structure remained the same.
Moreover, the brain develops differently depending on the students’ skills and involvement. ‘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, co-author of the study.
Concretely, students with better language skills showed a greater growth of the superior temporal gyrus and the hippocampus, while students that needed to put a greater effort in order to learn the language experienced a growth of the middle frontal gyrus, as reported by Lund University.
The conclusion: ‘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.
Johan Mårtensson, Johan Eriksson, Nils Christian Bodammer, Magnus Lindgren, Mikael Johansson, Lars Nyberg, & Martin Lövdén (2012). Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning NeuroImage DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.06.043