New study reveals how the brains of polyglots work

 New study reveals how the brains of polyglots work


 A new study looks at how the brains of polyglots process the different languages they understand.

 People who speak multiple languages, called polyglots, experience heightened activity in the brain's "language network" when they listen to the languages they speak, with stronger responses for those they are most fluent in.

 However, when listening to their native language, brain activity is similar or lower compared to non-native languages, according to a new study.

 "Something makes processing a little easier - perhaps because you've spent more time using that language - and that results in less brain activity for understanding your native language compared to other languages. other languages that you speak fluently," says Evelina Fedorenko, associate professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and lead author of the study, in a statement.

 According to the study authors, while many people around the world are fluent in more than one language, few speak five or more languages, and most current research focuses on bilingual people.

 How did the study work?

 American researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 34 polyglots and published their results in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex.

 All participants were proficient in at least five languages, with most having started learning them as teenagers or adults.

 Sixteen of the participants were “hyperpolyglots,” meaning they spoke 10 or more languages. One member of the group mastered no fewer than 54. The average number of languages spoken or signed by participants was around 15.

 The polyglots listened to texts from the Bible or Alice in Wonderland read in eight different languages.

 These were their mother tongue, three languages which they mastered to a greater or lesser degree, and languages which they did not speak at all. Among the latter, some were from the same family as a language they knew and others had no connection with them.

 The researchers looked at their brain's "language network," the interconnected areas of the brain's frontal and temporal lobes that support language processing.

 What do the scans show?

 The language network, located primarily in the left part of the brain, lit up the most when participants listened to passages in the languages they were most fluent in, with the exception of their native language.

 “As one progresses in mastering the language, one can use linguistic calculations to a greater extent, which allows one to obtain stronger and stronger answers,” explains Evelina Fedorenko.

 “But if you compare a very high level language and a native language, it may be that the native language is a little easier, perhaps because you have more experience with it.”

 When participants listened to languages they didn't speak, their brains responded more to languages similar to those they already knew.

 Some limitations of the current study are that language skills were self-reported and participants did not rate the extent to which they understood the texts.

 The authors plan to conduct further research on people who learned multiple languages at a very young age, including people who emigrated and became less proficient in their native language.



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