A Second Language and the Brain

A Second Language and the Brain Did you know I'm in the minority?

I always knew you were one of a kind…

Thanks. I'll take that as a compliment.

But what I meant to say was I'm among just nine percent of Americans who are fluent in a second language. Compare that 56 percent of Europeans who speak two languages and 28 percent who speak three.

I envy that… especially since I've tried learning Spanish as an adult and didn't get very far. Now there's a study that explains why. It found differences in the brain structures of monolingual compared to bilingual speakers.

The researchers used a technique called voxel-based morphometry. They looked at the brains of monolinguals and bilinguals who learned a second language before the age of 5 and spoke it regularly ever since.

They also included a group that learned the second language between ages 10 and 15 and used it regularly for at least 5 years.

Researchers observed a difference between the outer layer of the brain known as grey matter and the central areas of the brain called white matter. Compared with monolinguals, bilinguals had denser grey matter in an area of the brain right above the ears.

They then determined if language proficiency correlated with this increase in grey matter density. Sure enough, the better they spoke the language, the greater the density of the brain in that region.

However, the later in life the person learned the language, the less dense it was.

Well that certainly is not good for us given our age.

This study adds to accumulating evidence that the brain can be structurally altered by learning and by our experiences.

And I say that we now have evidence my grey matter is denser than yours…

Ha! It only proves what I've always known. that you're a bit dense.