jeudi 27 mai 2010

Learning Foreign Languages boosts brain power

OK so this is nothing new and I am not posting anything that people don't know already. There are thousands of articles online such as this one that say that when one learns a new languages the brain becomes permanently altered in the same way that exercise alters your muscles, and the fitter you become.

But what's interesting about that article is that they say it matters WHEN you started to learn the second language, the younger the better.

...Researchers from University College London studied the brains of 105 people - 80 of whom were bilingual.

They found learning other languages altered grey matter - the area of the brain which processes information - in the same way exercise builds muscles.

People who learned a second language at a younger age were also more likely to have more advanced grey matter than those who learned later, the team said.

Scientists already know the brain has the ability to change its structure as a result of stimulation - an effect known as plasticity - but this research demonstrates how learning languages develops it.

The team took scans of 25 Britons who did not speak a second language, 25 people who had learned another European language before the age of five and 33 bilinguals who had learned a second language between 10 and 15 years old.

The scans revealed the density of the grey matter in the left inferior parietal cortex of the brain was greater in bilinguals than in those without a second language.

The effect was particularly noticeable in the "early" bilinguals, the findings published in the journal Nature revealed.

The findings were also replicated in a study of 22 native Italian speakers who had learned English as a second language between the ages of two and 34.

Lead researcher Andrea Mechelli, of the Institute of Neurology at UCL, said the findings explained why younger people found it easier to learn second languages.

I'm not sure that I agree that it's easier for young people to learn a language. From everything that I've read the only main advantage of learning a language young is being about to replicate the native accent, something that's almost impossible to do after the age of about 10 or 12.

However, I can only speak for myself when I say that being bilingual since I was a child has helped immensely with my spelling and pronunciation/reading. I remember being in 2nd grade (aged 7) and the teacher asked us how to spell the plural of 'city'. Of course everyone said to add an 's' but for some reason I knew you had to change the ending by eliminating the 'y' and adding 'ies'. I have no idea how I knew this (possibly from seeing it/reading it somewhere and remembering it) but I remember I was the only one in the class who knew. I also remember clearly when I was in 3rd grade (aged 8) our teacher asked us how to read/pronounce 'mosque' and people were guessing 'moss-Q' or 'moe's Q' etc. I don't even know how I knew either but I knew it was pronounced 'mosk', and once again I was the only one in the class who knew this. I went to a very white school and noone else was bilingual.

I'm not saying this to say oh how great and wonderful and smart and I am. I'm saying it because I actually am inclined to agree that being bilingual from a young age somehow changes your brain structure so that you are able to intake new information more rapidly and process it, and also figure out connections between words of a language.

For every language I've learnt, I've very quickly figured out how words are connected. Words that sound very similar usually have a similar meaning and this is true for almost every language. I am also very good at guessing the meaning of words, even in languages that do not use a Roman script. I think my listening skills are quite good because I am able to follow a conversation and guess words that I don't know simply based on the context and based on words that I DO already know.

I also think that being bilingual since I was young has helped me learn foreign languages much more easily and quickly than the average monolingual person.

Enough talking about myself. Here is a fun article I found.

Here's their list of some more fun things you can do to boost your brain power:

1• Drink cocoa
2• Gossip with colleagues
3• Have a baby
4• Listening to foreign language CDs
5• Go running
6• Cook with rosemary
7• Eat scrambled eggs for breakfast
8• Have a nap
9• Drink two cups of coffee
10• Don't work too hard
11• Forget the fish oils
12• Snack on raisins
13• Write it down
14• Cut your food intake by a third
15• Play board games

My comments:

1. I love hot chocolate and I love any kind of chocolate. Yay!
2. I gossip with anyone anywhere if I have the chance and where appropriate.
3. Maybe later but not right now, thanks.
4. Even better, I listen to RFI's Le Journal en Français Facile!
5. I was doing this 3 times a week until I got sick.
6. I have no idea what rosemary looks like, I guess I'll have to check it out.
7. The only thing I have for breakfast is cereal or muesli or bread but perhaps I can have scrambled eggs on the weekend when I have more time.
8. Well I wish I could have one every day... haha, wishful thinking!
9. I hate coffee! Don't get me started.
10. I don't think I do ;)
11. Meh. I still take mine every day. But even better than fish oil, I take salmon oil.
12. Every now and then I do. Dried cranberries are also great.
13. What am I doing now? ;) I write everything down! I have an old fashioned diary that involves paper and pen, not an iphone or a blackberry and I even use email to write reminders to myself.
14. I know for a fact that I already eat far less than the average person and if I were to cut my intake I would be starving.
15. I love board games! But I have no one to play with. Boohoo. There's nothing more fun then getting a group of around 4-6 friends for a big long board game session.

Well now that you know this, what are you waiting for??? :)


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