Children may learn new languages more quickly than adults do because they use a different area of the brain, New York researchers report today in Nature. Using magnetic resonance imaging on 12 volunteers, Joy Hirsch and colleagues at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University Medical College found that children process all their languages in one small part of the brain, while adults who learn a new language are forced to create a new storage area.
The team studied Broca's area, the part of the frontal lobe where language is believed to be processed. They found that the same region of Broca's area was activated when people who were bilingual in childhood spoke either language. But in those who learned a second language late in life, separate regions were activated for each language.