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Speaking More Than One Language Can Benefit Brain

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Speaking More Than One Language Can Benefit Brain

 

Speaking more than one language can benefit brain connectivity but only if bilingualism is kept up, according to new research.  A paper published today in PNAS looked at the brains of healthy bilingual speakers with different levels of experience.

 

They found that the participants which had been speaking two languages for a long periods of time showed adaptations in parts of the brain that indicate more efficient processing of complex information.

 

Vincent Deluca from the University of Reading said:

“Our findings show that bilingualism ‘sculpts’ the brain, especially certain areas that deal with the demanding experiences of acquiring and handling more than one language. These changes lead to more efficient processing and connectivity between brain regions.  We also find that the degree to which these adaptations occur is tied to individual experience. That is, the more bilingual experience one has, the more efficient their brain becomes at handling multiple languages. In all, we suggest that the effects of bilingualism on the brain cannot be viewed independently of the individual experiences of the bilingual, and ultimately are linked to regular and continued use of both languages.”

 

Immersion in environments where both a mother tongue and second language can be practiced was also significantly linked with brain adaptations.  Using MRI scans, the team observed that more experienced bilingual participants exhibited adaptations in regions and networks in the brain associated with language control. These adaptations are also thought to have benefits for other processes.

 

Deluca continued:

“While we can’t yet use these data to say whether someone will be protected against symptoms of dementia, the paper can give us confidence that the brain adapts in particular areas based on different aspects of bilingual experience. Armed with this knowledge we can begin to develop better predictions of how bilingualism would interact with brain ageing

 

Full citation:

DeLuca, V., Rothman, J., Bialystok, E., and Pliatsikas, C. 2019, Redefining bilingualism as a spectrum of experiences that differentially affect brain structure and function, PNAS Latest Articles, DOI: doi/10.1073/pnas.1811513116