Scientists organized an intensive German language course for Arabic-speaking refugees from Syria, which included scanning the course participants' brains using magnetic resonance imaging.
59 adults participated in a six-month German language course. Students underwent MRI at the beginning, middle, and end of the course. Computed tomography technology was used, which allows imaging of the direction and continuity of nerve fibers.
Research has shown that during learning, connections in language areas of the white matter are strengthened and additional areas in the right hemisphere are engaged. — In both hemispheres, connections are developed in the areas responsible for language learning. Learning new words strengthened the lexical and phonological subnetworks of both hemispheres, especially in the second half of the session, during the period of consolidation of acquired knowledge, says the study's lead author, Xuehu Wei.
Interestingly, a decrease in connections between the hemispheres was also observed, indicating a key role for the corpus callosum, the structure that connects the two hemispheres. This decrease in connectivity indicates that learning a foreign language led to a decrease in the advantage of the left hemisphere of the brain – which dominates language-related matters – over the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere has gained additional linguistic resources, and thus there is no longer a need for intense communication between the hemispheres as before.
— The dynamic changes we observed in brain connections are directly related to the results of language tests conducted at the Goethe-Institut. This demonstrates how important it is for the communication network to be flexible in adapting to newly acquired language processing and to use right hemisphere regions not previously used in language processing. Alfred Anwander adds: “Here we see how the adult brain adapts to new cognitive challenges, and changes the structure of connections within and between hemispheres.”
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