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Study: Short-term language learning boosts cognitive agility

"It is never too late to start a novel mental activity such as learning a new language," said lead researcher Thomas Bak.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Short-term language learning boosts cognitive agility
Just a week spent learning a new language can have measurable cognitive benefits. Photo by Eiko Tsuchiya/Shutterstock

EDINBURGH, Scotland, April 27 (UPI) -- Studies have shown learning a second language can improve a variety of cognitive functions. Unfortunately, learning a language is hard.

It turns out, even short-term language learning is beneficial.

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Scottish researchers found that students demonstrated improved attention abilities after just a week of language learning.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh recruited 33 study participants, ages 18 to 78, to learn Scottish Gaelic. The participants were tested for various aspects of mental alertness before and after the one-week course.

For example, students were asked to concentrate on certain sounds during a series of listening tests. The tests gauged their ability concentrate and filter information on the fly.

After just a week in the language course, participants showed improvement on their baseline scores.

When researchers surveyed participants nine months later, they found those who had kept practicing -- at least five hours a week -- continued to score higher on the tests measuring attention and concentration.

Scientists published their findings this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

"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," lead researcher Thomas Bak said in a news release. "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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