Languages smarten up your brainMost people learn languages to help them communicate. Now a study of recent research into brain function reveals that students could be gaining a lot more from theirpursuit of linguistic skills
Thai Buddhist monks
Information rich ... multilingualism helps to build skills needed for the wired world. Photograph: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA/Corbis
The chiefreason most people want to learn English is to be able to communicate in the language and forge pathways into the wider world. Now a study published by the European Commission reveals that learning anadditional language such as English may bring benefits that go beyond the ability to use the language itself. This report has implications for why, when and how we teach and learn English as a second orforeign language.
The report, entitled The Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity, includes a statistical analysis of key research into the impact that knowing and using more than one languagehas on thinking and the brain. It argues that there is a dovetailing of results between studies conducted over the last 40 years, including recent findings from the neurosciences. The research, ofteninvolving the use of neuro-imaging techniques, is helping us to understand more clearly what happens in the brain when a person learns or uses more than one language.
One of the significant findingsfor English language teaching is that changes in the brain's electrical activity may occur much earlier than previously thought. It has been assumed that only command of different languages at veryhigh levels would have an impact on brain function. But this study suggests that changes in the brain may start even in the earlier stages of language learning. This has implications for not onlyrecognising the value of partial language competences, but also for understanding why certain language learning methodologies bring better results than others.
The report identifies six areas in which...
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