Posted on by Peter Rettig

Can language learning boost your memory?

A recent PBS NewsHour Report: "Can memory video games deliver on brain-boosting claims?" explores the question whether memory video games can improve and train the brains of older adults.

Cognitive Training and Video Games

While experts may still differ somewhat on the claims and real benefits of video games, there seems to be mounting evidence that they can indeed be used for cognitive training, though the results should not be overstated. 

Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, acknowledges: We do need better, more carefully controlled studies in order to make really strong prescriptive advice. That being said, in general, I think if you find these games fun, at least there's no clear evidence that they have detrimental effects, so I usually don't disrecommend them.  

Cognitive Training & Language learning

Anecdotes, common sense, or even personal experiences have long pointed to the It turns out that something as ordinary as speaking a couple of languages reconfigures the brain network in a way that positively affects certain things that brains do.grey-cell” benefits of learning a second (or third) language as an adult. This is also supported by brain research.

For example, a 2012 study performed by a group of researchers at the Umeå Center for Functional Brain Imaging at Lund University shows that language learning makes the brain grow. There is a lot to suggest that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in shape, says Johan Mårtensen, one of the participating researchers at the university. 

Or, research by Ellen Bialystok of York University in Toronto, Canada, who also concludes that bilingualism sharpens the mind. In an interview, conducted in 2011 for the British newspaper, The Guardian, Bialystok talks about the cognitive enhancement that many bilinguals experience. She states: It turns out that something as ordinary as speaking a couple of languages reconfigures the brain network in a way that positively affects certain things that brains do.

Video Games and Language learning

Combing language learning with Video Games should therefore be a natural marriage and a no-brainer. (excuse the pun!) If both activities enhance our brain and memory functions, those of us who like games would get a twofer: Having fun playing while learning a language at the same time. Language learning apps, such as Mindsnacks and Duolingo, etc., and online language learning sites such as GamesforLanguage, Digital Dialects, etc., all use games and gamification as their main teaching tools and are getting increased attention. However, compelling video games that combine effective language training and pure fun are just starting to gain momentum.

So for all you language learners: If you find fun video games for learning a language – continue with them: They are unlikely to have a detrimental effect on your brain activities – and, just maybe, they will even boost them. And as an added benefit, you'll know how to communicate in another language!