LEARNING a language protects grey matter

Researchers in Austria published a small study in December 2019 showing potentially protective effects of learning a second language on the decline of grey matter in the brain, a common indicator of MS.

Researchers age and sex matched the study participants, 11 young adults with RRMS to 12 healthy young adults. Initial MRIs were taken before they started language training for 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 weeks another MRI was taken and they were questioned on their health-related quality of life and tested on their learnt language skills.

When comparing the MRIs the researchers found significant increases in grey matter volume in areas of the brain related to language in both groups (the right hippocampus, parahippocampus, and putamen), demonstrating an increased plasticity of the brains of people with MS in order to compensate for their damage and become proficient in a new language. In addition, everyone improved in their listening comprehension, speaking fluency, and vocabulary knowledge. Importantly for people with MS is that those in the study reported improved health-related quality of life.

But this isn’t the first time that learning languages has been shown to have a positive impact on the brain, and therefore positive impacts on someones quality of life.

A Swedish study from Lund University had one group learn a language whilst the other group studied hard, but not on a language. MRI scans again showed that specific parts of the brains of the group learning a language increased in size whereas the non-language study group showed no change. These changes in areas of the brain used in language not only benefit learning of the new language but benefit the comprehension and fluency of the first language.

Studies from Canada have shown that knowing a second, third, or fourth can delay the onset of dementia and Alzhiemers by up to 5 years, an incredibly significant finding that only adds more weight to the idea that learning another language can help protect our brains. A large study from the UK showed that not only does knowing a second language keep your brain healthy and delay cognitive ageing but that it doesn’t matter when you learn it, why not start now?

People who speak more than one language fluently have been shown to have better memories, are more creative and mentally flexible than those who only speak one language. Knowing a second language can keep us cognitively well. As MS damages the connections between neurons, having a brain that is more creative and flexible can potentially reduce the impact of that damage on our day-to-day life.

Entonces, ¿qué idioma vas a aprender?

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