Bilingualism at Early Age 'Boosts Your Brain Power'

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bilingualism at Early Age 'Boosts Your Brain Power'


Byline: ByGARETH MORGAN Western Mail

Learning a second language could lead to an increase in brain power, according to scientists.

Parents who put their children into Welsh-medium education from an early age will be encouraged by new research into bilingualism which shows speaking more than one language builds up a part of the brain linked to verbal fluency.

Scans showed that becoming bilingual boosted 'grey matter' density in the left brain.

The effect was most striking when the language had been learned before the age of five.

A team led by Dr Andrea Mechelli, from University College London, recruited 25 right-handed Britons who only spoke English, and the same number of 'early bilinguals' who had learned a second European language before the age of five, as well as a number of later learners.

Scans revealed that grey matter density in a certain part of the brain, known as the inferior parietal cortex, was greater in bilinguals than in people without a second language.

But the longer a person waited before mastering a new language, the less the brain was altered.

'Our findings therefore suggest that the structure of the human brain is altered by the experience of acquiring a second language,' said the scientists in the journal Nature.

And because this brain structure is made of grey matter - or nerve endings - it can boost the learning process.

Professor Del Morgan at the University of Glamorgan said this was the latest in conclusive research showing the advantages of putting children into bilingual classes as early as possible.

Prof Morgan, head of linguistics organisation unilang at the university, has conducted his own research using Welsh school pupils. He said that people with doubts about their children learning Welsh or any other language should have more faith.

'Research has shown consistently that the practice of learning is increased significantly in the individual who has knowledge of more than one language,' he said.

'This raises interesting questions. …

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