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Cortex. 2012 Apr;48(4):458-65. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2010.10.007. Epub 2010 Oct 28.

Structural plasticity in the language system related to increased second language proficiency.

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  • 1University Hospital of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatric Neurophysiology, Bern, Switzerland.


While functional changes linked to second language learning have been subject to extensive investigation, the issue of learning-dependent structural plasticity in the fields of bilingualism and language comprehension has so far received less notice. In the present study we used voxel-based morphometry to monitor structural changes occurring within five months of second language learning. Native English-speaking exchange students learning German in Switzerland were examined once at the beginning of their stay and once about five months later, when their German language skills had significantly increased. We show that structural changes in the left inferior frontal gyrus are correlated with the increase in second language proficiency as measured by a paper-and-pencil language test. Contrary to the increase in proficiency and grey matter, the absolute values of grey matter density and second language proficiency did not correlate (neither on first nor on second measurement). This indicates that the individual amount of learning is reflected in brain structure changes, regardless of absolute proficiency.

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Srl. All rights reserved.

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