Video Fix: How Does Language Change Your Brain?

May 10, 2017 4:08 pm

Did you know that learning languages makes your brain bigger?

Several studies have shown that learning more than one language is beneficial for many aspects of your life but especially for your brain – a Swedish study recently conducted by Lund University has found that language learning actually stimulates the growth of certain brain areas.

As some say, the brain is a muscle and we can strengthen it by, for example, learning a foreign language. This week’s Video Fix explores the benefits that learning foreign languages can have on our brains. Check out this inspiring TestTubePlus video to find out how our brains are stimulated by the cognitive challenges of juggling multiple languages, which often imply acting in a way similar to Google autocomplete.


According to the Foreign Service Institute, the U.S. Government’s premier foreign affairs training provider, languages are divided into 5 categories according to their level of difficulty. This, of course, depends on the mother tongue of the speaker. The more similar a language is to the speaker’s mother tongue, the easier it will be to learn. Thus, for an English speaker the learning hierarchy looks like this:

  • Category 1 (600 hours) – e.g. Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian
  • Category 2 (750 hours) – e.g. German
  • Category 3 (900 hours) – e.g. Indonesian, Malaysian, Swahili
  • Category 4 (1100 hours) – e.g. Thai, Albanian, Vietnamese, Russian
  • Category 5 (2200 hours) – e.g. Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean

Language learning is also known to slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to Moskowitz, recent brain research suggests that bilingualism helps the brain to function better and for longer after developing the disease. Moreover, a University of Edinburgh study (2014) suggested a positive effect of bilingualism on cognitive ageing.

It is never too late to start training your brain by exposing it to new languages. Contrary to common belief, many sources now claim that age is not a determining factor in learning foreign languages. It is possible and beneficial to learn languages at any age, since age is only one among other factors, such as learning experience and motivation, that influence language learning success.

So, which are you tempted to learn: Dutch in 24 weeks, Indonesian in 36 weeks or Russian in 44 weeks? How realistic this is – that’s another question…

You might also be interested in some previous related posts:

Written by Yelena Radley, Terminology Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, language teacher and sociolinguist & Clara Gorría Lázaro, Translator, terminologist and Terminology Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament.


  • Bak, Thomas H., Nissan, Jack J., Allerhand, Michael M., and Deary, Ian J. (2014) “Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging?”. Annals of Neurology, 75(6): 959–963. Available at: (Accessed 08 May, 2017)
  • Craik, Fergus I.M, Bialystok, Ellen, and Freedman, Morris (2010) “Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve.” Neurology 75(19): 1726-1729. Available at: (Accessed 08 May, 2017)
  • Goethe Institute.”Learning foreign languages: a question of age?”. Available at: (Accessed 08 May, 2017)
  • Lund University. “Language learning makes the brain grow, Swedish study suggests.” ScienceDaily, 8 October 2012. Available at: (Accessed 08 May, 2017)
  • Moskowitz, Clara. “Learning a Second Language Protects Against Alzheimer’s”. LiveScience, 18 October 2011. Available at: (Accessed 08 May, 2017)


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