Does learning languages alter brain structure?
Updated: Dec 11, 2018
Interestingly, there is a high amount of support regarding neural changes as a result of bi- or multi-lingualism. There has been no outlined ‘fixed’ change that occurs to the same extent in every individual so far, but there are a large degree of neurological changes, some of which I will outline below.
Firstly, Grey Matter density. Grey matter comprises primarily of cell bodies of neurons and of glial cells, and is highly significant in sensory perception and motor function.
Cell size and neurogenesis for both neural and glial cells have been shown to have increased, thus enhancing grey matter - this perhaps resembles an increased amount of ‘nutrition’ from the glial cells having fed the neurons. The specific locations of such Grey Matter increases comprises of the Middle Frontal Gyrus (MFG), Intraparietal Sulcus (IPS), Inferior Frontal Gyrus (IFG), Anterial Temporal Lobe (ATL), Superior Temporal Gyrus (STG), Middle Temporal region (MT), among some of the few . The structural locations for these regions are displayed below.
Secondly, White Matter (comprising primarily of axon sheaths) changes have been found in bilinguals as opposed to multilinguals, with differences in FA values (reflective of fiber density, axon diameter and myelation) were found between the two groups in specific brain regions.
Overall, brain changes are quite advanced and yet to be clearly laid out, however, current research suggests that overall, multilingualism increases effects on cognitive functioning, such as processing speed, cognitive control (e.g. switching between two tasks/languages), speed of learning or mitigate cognitive decline.