New research suggests learning another language could significantly strengthen the brain.

Researchers looked at the brains of native English speakers as they learned Chinese vocabulary. A group of controls who did not learn new vocabulary were also included in the study, Penn State reported. The findings highlighted the cognitive benefits of learning foreign vocabulary. 

"There is good reason for the recent excitement surrounding the study of the bilingual brain: globalization and widespread use of digital technology have enabled increased cross-cultural communication with people becoming bilingual, while bilingualism confers clear social, economic, and even cognitive benefits to the individual and society as a whole,"  Ping Li, professor of psychology, linguistics and information sciences and technology said in a commentary on the study, which was published in a recent edition of the journal Elsevier. 

The team found those who were most successful at learning the new vocabulary exhibited a more connected brain network than bot those who were less successful and those who did not learn the vocabulary at all. The individuals who were most successful at learning the new vocabulary also showed better brain connectivity before the study even began.

Brain efficiency was defined as the strength of connections between brain nodes; the stronger the edges going from one node to another, the faster they can work together. FMRI scans revealed after the participants had learned the new vocabulary they showed signs of functional brain changes such as the brain networks being better integrated.

The findings suggest the brain is more plastic than was previously believed and that learning new languages could help the brain age more gracefully.

 "We have now embarked on a study to systematically identify effects of context and mode of learning, in which we compare classroom based learning method with cyber-enabled 3D virtual environment with real immersion learning. We hope to see that different learning methods and contexts will result in different brain patterns and changes," Li said in an email to HNGN in reference to the next steps for the study.