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How Learning A New Language Can Change Your Brain Structure

How Learning A New Language Can Change Your Brain Structure

The impact of learning a new language

Learning a new language doesn’t just make life easier when you go on vacation or talk with colleagues from other backgrounds. It also has far-reaching neurological consequences. In this article, you will discover which parts of the brain undergo physical changes when you learn how to speak a foreign language, and why these changes can be so beneficial.

Which parts of the brain are changed?

Learning a new language is a great way to keep your brain functioning at optimum capacity. In 2012, a group of Swiss researchers found that the process of learning a foreign language has discernible effects on the cerebral cortex.[1] After just three months of learning a new language, adult volunteers showed a thickening in this part of the brain, which is responsible for memory, learning, consciousness and language use. Although the study only investigated the effects of three months’ worth of lessons rather than years, the results are still encouraging for those who would like to train their brains to remain active into old age.

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Research from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) has also shown that learning a language exerts a direct impact on the brain. The researchers were interested in examining the interactions between a person’s experience of learning a new language and their genetic profile.

Research Background

79 Chinese students studying in the US were recruited to take part. They were split into two groups. One group embarked on a three-week immersive English language course, and the other was used as a control group. The researchers used MRI technology to track the changes occurring within the white matter of the brain, especially in areas responsible for language processing.

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Key Findings

They uncovered two key findings.[2] Firstly, immersion in language classes greatly increased brain connections within white matter, and this effect dropped off after students completed the course. Second, a student’s degree of success at learning a language could be predicted by looking at which variation of a specific gene (the COMT gene) they were found to be carrying.

This study only examined the experiences of one ethnic group learning one particular language, but it nonetheless underlines the fact that two people who go to the same classes and take the same approach to learning a language may differ in how readily they pick it up.

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What’s the best way to learn a new language?

It has never been so easy to pick up a new language. With a plethora of apps available, you can start learning a new language in a way that suits you. There are many language courses to download for little or no charge. For example, Duolingo offers completely free language instruction in 21 languages including Spanish, French and Hebrew.

Another option is Busuu, which aims to help students learn a new language in 10-minute bitesize lessons. They state on their site that 22.5 hours of Busuu teaching can equate to a semester of college-level language study. Babbel is another popular choice, offering online tuition in 14 languages including Turkish and Russian. It has a clean, simple interface designed to help you pick up vocabulary in a short space of time.

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To supplement your language learning, you can also try apps that allow you to interact with native speakers. This can help consolidate your new knowledge. HiNative allows you to connect and chat with speakers of almost any language. HelloTalk is another good option. It allows you to make contact with speakers of over 100 languages and promises that you will soon pick up their language in an intuitive, natural way.

Finally, flashcards and games are also invaluable aids to support you in your language learning. MindSnacks prides itself on creating fun and educational games suitable for all ages. This lets you play games and feel productive at the same time! Memrise have a similar mission. On the front page of their website they claim that they make language learning “so full of joy and life, you’ll laugh out loud.” If you want to support your learning via a more traditional method, try TinyCards. This app, created by the Duolingo team, offers you a quick and easy way to check up on your vocabulary skills.

However you choose to learn a language, enjoy yourself and remember that not only will you be having fun and enhancing your skill set but you will also be setting your brain up for a mentally healthy and active old age.

Reference

[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22750568
[2]http://www.pnas.org/content/113/26/7249.abstract

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Jay Hill

Freelance Writer

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Last Updated on October 29, 2018

What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

Brain fog is more of a symptom than a medical condition itself, but this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Brain fog is a cognitive dysfunction, which can lead to memory problems, lack of mental clarity and an inability to focus.

Many often excuse brain fog for a bad day, or get so used to it that they ignore it. Unfortunately, when brain fog is ignored it ends up interfering with work and school. The reason many ignore it is because they aren’t fully aware of what causes it and how to deal with it.

It’s important to remember that if your brain doesn’t function fully — nothing else in your life will. Most people have days where they can’t seem to concentrate or forget where they put their keys.

It’s very normal to have days where you can’t think clearly, but if you’re experiencing these things on a daily basis, then you’re probably dealing with brain fog for a specific reason.

So what causes brain fog? It can be caused by a string of things, so we’ve made a list things that causes brain fog and how to prevent it and how to stop it.

1. Stress

It’s no surprise that we’ll find stress at the top of the list. Most people are aware of the dangers of stress. It can increase blood pressure, trigger depression and make us sick as it weakens our immune system.

Another symptom is mental fatigue. When you’re stressed your brain can’t function at its best. It gets harder to think and focus, which makes you stress even more.

Stress can be prevented by following some simple steps. If you’re feeling stressed you should avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine — even though it may feel like it helps in the moment. Two other important steps are to indulge in more physical activities and to talk to someone about it.

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Besides that, you can consider keeping a stress diary, try relaxation techniques like mediation, getting more sleep and maybe a new approach to time management.

2. Diet

Most people know that the right or wrong diet can make them gain or loss weight, but not enough people think about the big impact a specific diet can have on one’s health even if it might be healthy.

One of the most common vitamin deficiencies is vitamin B12 deficiency and especially vegans can be get hid by brain fog, because their diet often lacks the vitamin B-12. The vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to mental and neurological disorders.

The scary thing is that almost 40 % of adults are estimated to lack B12 in their diet. B12 is found in animal products, which is why many vegans are in B12 deficiency, but this doesn’t mean that people need animal products to prevent the B12 deficiency. B12 can be taken as a supplement, which will make the problem go away.

Another vital vitamin that can cause brain fog is vitamin D. More than 1 billion people worldwide don’t have enough vitamin D in their diet. Alongside B12 and vitamin D is omega-3, which because of its fatty acids helps the brain function and concentrate. Luckily, both vitamin D and omega-3 can be taken as supplements.

Then there’s of course also the obvious unhealthy foods like sugar. Refined carbohydrates like sugar will send your blood sugar levels up, and then send you right back down. This will lead to brain fog, because your brain uses glucose as its main source of fuel and once you start playing around with your brain — it gets confused.

Besides being hit by brain fog, you’ll also experience tiredness, mood swings and mental confusion. So, if you want to have clear mind, then stay away from sugar.

Sometimes the same type of diet can be right for some and wrong for others. If you’re experiencing brain fog it’s a good idea to seek out your doctor or a nutritionist. They can take some tests and help you figure out which type of diet works best for your health, or find out if you’re lacking something specific in your diet.

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3. Allergies

If you have food allergies, or are simply a bit sensitive to specific foods, then eating those foods can lead to brain fog. Look out for dairy, peanuts and aspartame that are known to have a bad effect on the brain.

Most people get their calories from corn, soy and wheat — and big surprise — these foods are some of the most common foods people are allergic to. If you’re in doubt, then you can look up food allergies[1] and find some of the most common symptoms.

If you’re unsure about being allergic or sensitive, then you can start out by cutting out a specific food from your diet for a week or two. If the brain fog disappears, then you’re most likely allergic or sensitive to this food. The symptoms will usually go away after a week or two once you remove the trigger food from the diet.

If you still unsure, then you should seek out the help of your doctor.

4. Lack of sleep

All of us know we need sleep to function, but it’s different for everybody how much sleep they need. A few people can actually function on as little as 3-4 hours of sleep every night, but these people are very, very rare.

Most people need 8 to 9 hours of sleep. If you don’t get the sleep you need, then this will interfere with your brain and you may experience brain fog.

Instead of skipping a few hours of sleep to get ahead of things you need to do, you’ll end up taking away productive hours from your day, because you won’t be able to concentrate and your thoughts will be cloudy.

Many people have trouble sleeping but you can help improve your sleep by a following a few simple steps.

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There is the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, which is a technique that regulates your breath and helps you fall asleep faster. Another well-known technique is to avoid bright lights before you go to sleep.

A lot of us are guilty of falling asleep with the TV on or with our phone right by us, but the blue lights from these screens suppresses the production of melatonin in our bodies, which actually makes us stay awake longer instead. If you’re having trouble going to sleep without doing something before you close your eyes, then try taking up reading instead.

If you want to feel more energized throughout the day, start doing this.

5. Hormonal changes

Brain fog can be triggered by hormonal changes. Whenever your levels of progesterone and estrogen increases, you may experience short-term cognitive impairment and your memory can get bad.

If you’re pregnant or going through menopause, then you shouldn’t worry too much if your mind suddenly starts to get a bit cloudy. Focus on keeping a good diet, getting enough of sleep and the brain fog should pass once you’re back to normal.

6. Medication

If you’re on some medication, then it’s very normal to start experiencing some brain fog.

You may start to forget things that you used to be able to remember, or you get easily confused. Maybe you can’t concentrate the same way that you used to. All of these things can be very scary, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Brain fog is a very normal side effect of drugs, but by lowering your dosage or switching over to another drug; the side effect can’t often be improved and maybe even completely removed.

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7. Medical condition

Brain fog can often be a symptom of a medical condition. Medical conditions that include inflammation, fatigue, changes in blood glucose level are known to cause brain fog.

Conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anemia, depression, diabetes, migraines, hypothyroidism, Sjögren syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Lupus and dehydration can all cause brain fog.[2]

The bottom line

If you haven’t been diagnosed, then never start browsing around Google for the conditions and the symptoms. Once you start looking for it; it’s very easy to (wrongfully) self-diagnose.

Take a step back, put away the laptop and relax. If you’re worried about being sick, then always check in with your doctor and take it from there.

Remember, the list of things that can cause brain fog is long and it can be something as simple as the wrong diet or not enough sleep.

Featured photo credit: Asdrubal luna via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Food Allergy: Common Allergens
[2]HealthLine: 6 Possible Causes of Brain Fog

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