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Edinburgh University Shows Language Brain Boost

Mar 2016

Language ,


Learning Gaelic gives your brain a boost, says Edinburgh-based language group. The study also showed that speakers will experience a cognitive boost regardless of the age they start learning.

Professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh Antonella Sorace founded the research group Bilingualism Matters Centre to investigate the benefits of speaking minority languages like Gaelic and Sardinian. During the group’s most recent study, experimenters investigated the cognitive benefits of language learning on elderly participants.

Language Learning in Edinburgh

The experiment compared the cognitive performance of a group of language learners with a control group. The former consisted of people aged in their 60s and 70s who were undergoing an intensive Gaelic programme. The latter consisted of otherwise active retired people who were doing a course in something else.

“[W]hen we compared them with other active retired people who were doing a course on something else, not just couch potatoes, we found in those who were doing a language course, the brain responds.

“Even when you are in your 60s or 70s, your brain responds. It’s a significant improvement. We think it’s about effort and novelty of the task.

“It’s not proficiency as such, because after a year these people are not fluent in Gaelic, but the task was novel and they applied effort and their brain responded well.”

The study builds on a body of previous work which links language learning to cognitive benefits.

Bilingualism and language learning has been proven to cause physiological changes in the brain, which some researchers suggest makes the brain more adaptable and better able to cope with stress, degeneration and new challenges.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University showed that bilingualism improves a speaker’s multitasking ability. Director of the University’s Center for Language Science Judith Kroll likened bilingualism to mental juggling and drew comparisons between switching languages and switching tasks.

Several other studies have shown that language learning staves off Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative cognitive conditions.

A number of other studies link language learning to a range of improvements, including decision making, perception, native language abilities and memory.

However, it’s not all positive for bilingualism. A joint study from Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin found that monolinguists are far better at assessing their own performance. Researchers were apparently surprised at the findings as bilingualists traditionally to outperform monolinguists in cognitive tests.


Have you acquired a language in later life? Did you notice a boost to your brain? Tell us about your experiences on Facebook or Twitter. If you require professional translation or interpretation services in Edinburgh, contact us today.


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