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Learning New Languages May Alter Brain Structure

Update Date: Aug 29, 2013 12:56 PM EDT

Learning a new language may alter brain development, according to a new study.

Scientists at the University of Oxford recently discovered that the age at which children learn a second language can have a significantly impact on the structure of their adult brain.

While the pattern of brain development is similar if people learn one or two language from birth, learning a second language later on in childhood after gaining proficiency in the first language can modify the brain's structure, specifically the brain's inferior frontal cortex.

Researchers examined the MRI scans of 66 bilingual and 22 monolingual men and women.  They found that learning a second language later in childhood makes the left inferior frontal cortex thicker and the right inferior frontal cortex thinner.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that learning a second language after infancy stimulates new neural growth and connections among neurons in ways seen in acquiring complex motor skill such as juggling. Scientists believe that the difficulty that some people have in learning a second language later in life could be explained at the structural level.

"The later in childhood that the second language is acquired, the greater are the changes in the inferior frontal cortex," lead author Dr. Denise Klein said in a news release."Our results provide structural evidence that age of acquisition is crucial in laying down the structure for language learning."

The findings are published in the journal Brain and Language.

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