The brains of polyglots do not process all living languages ​​in the same way

The brains of polyglots do not process all living languages ​​in the same way

If you are multilingual, you have certainly already noticed that you find it easier to think and express yourself in your mother tongue. An American study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, looks at this phenomenon and shows that our brain processes our dominant language differently.

The signatories of this research relied on the conclusions of a study dating from 2021, which suggest that the brain of a polyglot is less activated than that of a monolingual when they have to process information in their native language. The researchers wanted to explore this discovery further to understand what is really happening in the brains of polyglots when they listen to languages ​​that they master more or less.

The brains of polyglots react differently

Evelina Fedorenko, associate professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her colleagues therefore carried out an experiment involving around thirty individuals speaking at least five languages. While some of the volunteers were more multilingual than others, they all had one thing in common: they had not been multilingual since childhood.

Each participant had to listen to passages from the Bible and “Alice in Wonderland” read in eight different languages ​​- some of which they did not speak at all – while the researchers analyzed their neural activity using a monitoring device. Functional MRI. Academics found that the brains of polyglots reacted differently depending on the language they were listening to.

Thus, the language processing networks, which are located in the left cerebral hemisphere, were activated the most when the participants listened to languages ​​that they mastered well. However, they reacted little when they heard their mother tongue. Evelina Fedorenko hypothesizes that the brain activates to a lesser extent with the mother tongue because it is the one with which we are most familiar. “These results suggest that there is something unique about the first language we acquire that allows the brain to process it with minimal effort, the researchers say.”

When the “multiple requirements network” activates

Furthermore, researchers have noticed that a brain network known as the “multiple demands network” is activated when we listen to languages ​​that differ from our native language. This finding is significant given that the multiple requirements network is involved during the performance of complex and demanding cognitive tasks. This proves that our brain has an easier time processing information in a language that we have mastered since childhood.

Most of the polyglots in this study began learning a language other than the one they grew up with when they were teenagers or adults. In the future, researchers plan to study the brains of multilingual people from childhood. Regardless, there is no doubt that mastering several languages ​​is a good way to maintain your brain health. For example, it has been proven that multilingualism can delay the onset of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.