Taking time off can help you learn a language

Catherine de Lange for New Scientist

FORGET “use it or lose it”, taking time out could be beneficial when learning a new language.

Michael Ullman of Georgetown University in Washington DC and colleagues recorded the brain activity of 19 people who learned a fake language, before and after they took a five-month break, and compared it with that of people speaking their native tongue.

Subjects performed as well in grammar tests after the break as before, and brain activity after the break more closely resembled that of native speakers (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032974).

Ullman reckons that a break shifts language from declarative memory - in which we actively recall information - to procedural memory, which is more innate.

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