Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Learning a New Language at Any Age Helps the Brain

An artist's image shows a brain filled with different speech 

Learning a new language may improve people's thinking skills and memory abilities, research suggests.

Learning a second language may help improve brain function regardless of when you start, according to a new study.

Researchers found that young adults proficient in two languages performed better on attention tests and had better concentration than those who spoke only one language, irrespective of whether they had learned that second language during infancy, childhood or their teen years.

The study appears in the current edition of the journal Frontiers in Psychology, led by Dr. Thomas Bak, a lecturer at Edinburgh's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences. 

Whether the positive effect extends to people who learn a language in middle age or beyond is not clear, but Bak and other brain researchers said they see no reason why not, and that is the focus of ongoing studies. "We have worked our way from adolescents to early adults," Bak told LiveScience. "We are currently working on middle age to retirement."

Last year Bak and his colleagues, including Dr. Suvarna Alladi of Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, found that people in India who spoke more than one language from a very young age developed dementia about four years later, on average, compared to those who spoke only one language. This finding, Bak said, inspired him to investigate the cognitive benefits of learning a second language during adulthood.

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