MONTREAL, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- The age at which a child begins to learn a second language can have a significant bearing on the structure of the adult brain, Canadian researchers report.
A study by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University found the pattern of brain development is similar whether one or two languages are learned together from birth but learning a second language later on in childhood after gaining proficiency in the first, native language modifies brain structure.
The alterations occur in the frontal cortex, the multi-layered mass of neurons playing a major role in cognitive functions such as thought, language, consciousness and memory, the researchers said.
"The later in childhood that the second language is acquired, the greater are the changes in the inferior frontal cortex," study lead author Denise Klein said. "Our results provide structural evidence that age of acquisition is crucial in laying down the structure for language learning."
The majority of people in the world learn to speak more than one language during their lifetimes and many do so with great proficiency, particularly if the languages are learned simultaneously or from early in development, but the study suggests the difficulty some people encounter in learning a second language later in life could be explained at the structural level, the researchers said.