Brain activity increases when you start to learn a new language, but slows down as you become more proficient, a new, small study finds.
“In the first few months, you can quantitatively measure language-skill improvement by tracking brain activations,” study co-author Kuniyoshi Sakai, a neuroscientist at the University of Tokyo, said in a school news release.
The study included 15 native speakers of European languages who moved to Tokyo and completed introductory Japanese classes for at least three hours each day.
All were in their 20s. They had studied English as children or teenagers, but had never studied Japanese or traveled to Japan.
After at least eight weeks of lessons, and again six to 14 weeks later, the volunteers completed Japanese reading and listening tests while inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. It measured blood flow, an indicator of brain activity.
The initial MRIs revealed increased blood flow in specific regions of the brain. They included regions specialized for language, including grammar and comprehension; memory, and vision.