Learning languages 'boosts brain'
Learning languages enhances the brain, scientists believe
Learning a second language "boosts" brain-power, scientists believe.
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
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.
  It means that older learners won't be as fluent as people who learned
earlier in life
Andrea Mechelli, of University College London
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
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.
"It means that older learners won't be as fluent as people who learned
earlier in life.
"They won't be as good as early bilinguals who learned, for example,
before the age of five or before the age of 10."
But Cilt, the national centre for languages, cast doubt on whether
learning languages was easier at a younger age.
A spokeswoman said: "There are conflicting views about the comparative
impact of language learning in different age groups, based both on
findings and anecdotal evidence."
However, she said it was important to get young people learning languages
in the UK.
Only one in 10 UK workers can speak a foreign language, a recent survey
But by 2010 all primary schools will have to provide language lessons for