Study to examine benefits of learning languages

Published: 10 April 2015 at 13:42

Anglia Ruskin psychologists receive £278k research grant from Leverhulme Trust.

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Psychologists at Anglia Ruskin University have been awarded £278,000 from the Leverhulme Trust to investigate the potential benefits of learning languages, how it affects children’s development and whether it can delay the onset of dementia in older people.

Understanding the advantages of being multilingual is increasingly significant, with over half of the world’s population regularly speaking more than one language.

A study carried out across Europe in 2006 showed that 56% of people could hold a conversation in a second language, although this fell to only 38% in the UK.

Led by Dr Roberto Filippi, the psychologists will build on their recent research showing how bilingual adults and children have an advantage over monolinguals when it comes to understanding complex sentences in the presence of noise interference.

The new project will investigate mechanisms driving this interference control and will also explore the extent to which these advantages extend throughout people’s lifespan, possibly offering a protective barrier against age-related cognitive decline such as dementia.

It will compare the performance of bilingual and English monolingual speakers by recruiting volunteers between 7-90 years old. A randomised selection of participants across all age groups will undergo MRI scans to map behavioural performance with grey matter density and white matter connectivity amongst monolingual and bilingual participants.

Dr Filippi, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“By identifying when second language learning exerts the greatest influence on cognitive ability, our research could highlight the optimal time for the promotion of language learning amongst the young."

“We will also investigate whether language learning has the potential to offset the effects of age related degenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, in adults and the elderly.”

Last year Dr Filippi published research showing how bilingual primary school children learn more effectively than monolinguals in noisy environments such as classrooms.