Is your battery getting low? Learn a language!

The effect of bilingualism on the brain seems to be a hot topic in science these days. Since I am multilingual myself and was luckily raised almost ‘trilingual’, an article I found on the website of BBC struck my attention. Learning a second language can boost brain power, scientists believe.” So, is your battery running low? Time to learn a language! :)

Brain difference
Differences were seen in the brainstem (coloured orange)

Being bilingual ‘boosts brain power’

Wonder why?
Researchers from Northwestern University say bilingualism is a form of brain training – a mental “work out” that fine-tunes the mind. Lab tests revealed that speaking two languages profoundly affects the brain and changes how the nervous system responds to sound.

For the study, the team monitored the brain responses of 48 healthy student volunteers – which included 23 who were bilingual – to different sounds. They used scalp electrodes to trace the pattern of brainwaves.

Under quiet, laboratory conditions, both groups – the bilingual and the English-only-speaking students – responded similarly. But against a backdrop of noisy chatter, the bilingual group was far superior at processing sounds. They were better able to tune in to the important information – the speaker’s voice – and block out other distracting noises – the background chatter.

‘Powerful’ benefits. And these differences were visible in the brain. The bilingualists’ brainstem responses were heightened. (see picture)

Prof Nina Kraus, who led the research: “The bilingual’s enhanced experience with sound results in an auditory system that is highly efficient, flexible and focused in its automatic sound processing, especially in challenging or novel listening conditions.”

Co-author Viorica Marian: “People do crossword puzzles and other activities to keep their minds sharp. But the advantages we’ve discovered in dual language speakers come automatically simply from knowing and using two languages. It seems that the benefits of bilingualism are particularly powerful and broad, and include attention, inhibition and encoding of sound.”

Great! So how about multilinguals who love doing crossword puzzles?
My conclusion? Time to hit the gym… I wouldn’t want my brain to blow out of proportion! ;) 

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