Can Learning a New Language Improve Your Brain?

Can Learning a New Language Improve Your Brain?

by Li-Ann Smal

So… you might have heard the buzz around Everest Language School… there’s a psychological study going on! Two final year students from Trinity College Dublin, Taarika and Li-Ann, have been snooping around school to see if anyone wants to take part. Why, you ask? With the help of Anne-Marie (who is a Dr. due to her research on bilingualism and the brain), we want to see whether having two languages gives you (and your brain) an advantage over people who only have one language.

Let us explain a little bit more…

There is lots of evidence that learning two languages from birth, or as a young child, is very easy to do, and has cognitive benefits for bilingual or multilingual children throughout their lifetime. Myself and Taarika are conducting some tests to see if this finding can be extended into adulthood. Is there also a cognitive advantage for adults who begin to learn a new language after the age of 18? Recently there has been more and more evidence to suggest that there is a benefit for being able to speak more than one language! Which is great news for those of you in Everest learning a new language (not so great news for little ol’ monolingual me…)

The study we are conducting is relatively simple. We use the Test of Everyday Attention (TEA) to test cognitive abilities such as attentional switching, sustained attention, selective attention, and working memory. These are some of the key components of our cognition, and we are wondering whether being bilingual boosts these and gives them an advantage over monolinguals. Switching is a particularly interesting part of cognition to do with speaking two languages, because the speaker must constantly switch from one language to the other.

The other measure we are using is the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI). This is to see whether being bilingual makes you smarter! Or whether being smart makes you better at being bilingual! We are not sure yet, so keep an eye out to see what we discover… We also are trying to account for other extra-linguistic factors such as nationality, culture, social life, to see if these things impact on how well you learn the new language. Things like ‘Does going to the pub make you better at English?’ We’re looking forward to discovering all of these things!

We are still in the middle of conducting the study if any English language students would like to take part! It only involves 2 tests (no electric shocks or electrodes!) and a questionnaire, and should take less than an hour in the beautiful surrounds of Trinity College Dublin. The tests are generally nonverbal so your level of English does not matter – we want you all!! We also have lots of chocolate and biscuits to give to those who take part 🙂 If you’d like to join, ask Anne-Marie, or email me at small@tcd.ie. You could be part of a ground-breaking discovery!!