Posted on Jul 15, 2016, 6 a.m.
Immersion in a second language in one’s elementary school years beneficially impacts the structure of the brain’s white matter.
A number of previous studies submit that bilingualism (familiarity with two languages) improves learning and cognitive processes. Christos Pliatsikasa, from the University of Kent (United Kingdom), and colleagues studied brain scans of 20 men and women, average age 30 years, who resided in Britain for at least 13 months. They had all started learning English as a second language around age 10. Their imaging analyses were compared to 25 people of similar age who spoke only English. The comparison revealed that that the people who began learning English around age 10 and were immersed in the language, showed improvements in the structure of the brain's white matter, as compared to people who grew up speaking only English and did not learn a second language. Observing that: “It has been suggested that early lifelong bilingualism affects the structure of white matter of the brain and preserves its integrity in older age,” the study authors write that: “Here we show that similar [white matter] effects are also found in bilingual individuals who learn their second language later in life and are active users of both languages. This finding presents a strong argument for the general benefits of additional language learning and the importance of language learning and use in a naturalistic environment.”
Christos Pliatsikasa, Elisavet Moschopoulouc, James Douglas Saddy. “The effects of bilingualism on the white matter structure of the brain, PNAS, 12 Dec. 2014.