Recently Lund University, in Sweden, carried out research on the effects of learning a new language that proved the growth of the brain in various areas, one of them being the hippocampus. Why is this area of the brain so important? Without getting into very specific details, in humans the hippocampal system is associated with so-called episodic memory (it processes information regarding knowledge about the world and about experiences lived) and with spatial memory (which stores elements of a visual or spatial nature).
The students recruited for this study were youths from the Academy of Interpretation of the Swedish Armed Forces. These subjects studied languages such as Arabic, Russian or Dari at an intensive pace from morning to afternoon, both on weekdays and on weekends.
To prove that the results of the research were due to the increase of specific knowledge a parallel control group was also included in the study, made up of students of the cognitive sciences and medicine at the University of Umea, i.e. by persons who studied a lot, just not languages. No brain modification at all appeared in them.
These results complement those already obtained in a study performed in 2010 at the York University in Toronto, which revealed that Alzheimer’s disease develops later in bilingual or multilingual persons. What is this owed to? Tying things together, it was observed that the hippocampus is precisely the zone of the brain whose disruption presents itself as one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease. In turn, the hippocampus is also frequently the focus of epileptic seizures. This fact could be the starting point for further research on the benefits of learning languages.
Johan Mårtensson, the lead researcher in the Swedish project, sums it up in the following manner following the first phase of research: “Although we can’t compare three months of intensive studying of a language with an entire bilingual life, many things suggest that learning languages is a good way to keep your brain in shape.”
For those who’d like more information, the study appears in Volume 63 of the journal NeuroImage.
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