LEARN A LAN­GUAGE OR IN­STRU­MENT

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Science -

“Even a short, in­ten­sive course can show ben­e­fits on some cog­ni­tive func­tions”

So far only two types of men­tal ex­er­tion have been shown to im­prove or pre­serve over­all cog­ni­tive abil­ity. One is mu­si­cal train­ing; the other is learn­ing a new lan­guage, or prac­tis­ing a sec­ond one you have al­ready learned.

Got­tfried Sch­laug, di­rec­tor of the Mu­sic and Neu­roimag­ing Lab­o­ra­tory at Har­vard Univer­sity ex­plains: “Lis­ten­ing to and mak­ing mu­sic is not only an au­di­tory ex­pe­ri­ence; it’s a mul­ti­sen­sory and mo­tor ex­pe­ri­ence. Play­ing an in­stru­ment changes how the brain in­ter­prets and in­te­grates a wide range of sen­sory in­for­ma­tion, and mak­ing mu­sic over a long pe­riod of time can change brain func­tion and brain struc­ture”

As for the role of lan­guage-learn­ing in boost­ing brain power, a team at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity as­sessed men­tal alert­ness in a group of 33 stu­dents (aged 18-78) who un­der­took a one-week Scot­tish Gaelic course. Af­ter the course they were en­cour­aged to prac­tise their new lan­guage for five hours a week. At the end of the course, their at­ten­tion was found to be bet­ter than com­par­i­son groups who had done other types of cour­ses or no course at all, and nine months later those who had been prac­tis­ing had bumped up their at­ten­tion span even more.

Lead re­searcher, Dr Thomas Bak of the School of Phi­los­o­phy, Psy­chol­ogy and Lan­guage Sci­ences said the re­sults con­firm the cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits of lan­guage-learn­ing. “I think there are three im­por­tant mes­sages from our study: firstly, it is never too late to start a novel men­tal ac­tiv­ity such as learn­ing a new lan­guage. Se­condly, even a short, in­ten­sive course can show ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects on some cog­ni­tive func­tions. Thirdly, this ef­fect can be main­tained through prac­tice.”

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