Learning a new language entails more intense brain activity

learning a new language

Studies have shown that learning a new language boosts the brain activity in the first months, while later on, when language abilities improve, the brain activity decreases.

A neuroscientist from the University of Tokyo claims that language skills can be measured in the beginner phase by observing the brain activity. The researchers at this university made an experiment in which 15 volunteers participated; they were people who moved to Tokyo and took Japanese classes for beginners. The researchers assessed their brain activity and blood flow using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while the participants took multiple choice reading and listening tests.

Researchers claim that there are four brain areas specialized for language: one for grammar and another for comprehension in the left frontal lobe, and one for auditory and another one for vocabulary processing in the temporo-parietal lobe.

learning a new language

During the tests, the four areas showed high blood flow, suggesting that the participants were very focused on recognizing the sounds and signs of the new language. The researchers observed activation of the anterior hippocamus, responsible for storing memories, and the posterior hippocamus, in which information is stored.


Learning a new language: changes in the brain activity

During a second round of tests, a few weeks later, the participants performed better as their reading and listening skills improved. This time, the brain activity decreased in the grammar and comprehension areas during the listening test, and there was less activity in the visual area during the reading test. This was expected, since less effort is required when language skills improve.

learning a new language

The conclusion of the study is that the brain activity changes in just a few months of learning a new language. By measuring the brain activity when learning a foreign language, neurologists can find the best and most effective methods of language learning. The researchers at the University of Tokyo recommend learning a new language abroad, in an environment where the language is used, so that all four areas of language learning activate at the same time. Learning a new language is beneficial for a better communication and understanding of different cultures.

learning a new language

For more information about this experiment, check this website.


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