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Does language learning improve or worsen the ability to remember and process information?

Does language learning improve or worsen the ability to remember and process information?



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In an interview with a Czech neurologist Syka, I've heard that much of the mental health (such as the ability to reason, communicate and process information) in older age mainly depends​ on the amount of informational ballast we create. The argument states that with this additional information, we unnecessarily wear some of the basic mental mechanisms out (Even though there's no the effect of "too much memories"). Does knowledge of more languages tend to improve or worsen these mental skills?


What I do not quite understand is: What is (according to Syka) "useless information" and how should we "avoid" this kind of information?

Let me try and answer this as follows: During our lifetime, our brain undergoes "synaptic pruning", which lasts from childhood into puberty. Basically, the brain gets rid of "unused" synapses to make space for more complex structures according to the principle of "use it or lose it". It has been hypothesised that sleep has a similar function in that it helps decrease the strength of synapses in order to save energy and not store what you may have referred to as "information ballast" (Synaptic Homoestasis Hypothesis). The creation of new synapses continues throughout our life, which is why there is (some) neural plasticity even in old adulthood. Thus, the brain itself knows how to get rid of irrelevant information (i.e. whatever it does not use) and is receptive to learning even in old age.

What is more, the brain grows with its tasks. So if you avoid learning new tasks, your brain will effectively decline and so will most cognitive skills (working memory, executive functions, processing speed, reasoning etc.). Likewise, our brain does not easily transfer skills from one task to general cognition. If you start doing Sudokus 5h a day, you will improve your Sudoku skills, but not your general ability to reason, for instance. Thus, to the contrary, it seems that what best maintains cognitive functioning in old age is continued engagement in cognitively challenging activities (see Park 2014) rather than the avoidance of new information.

With multilingualism, there is currently a hot debate about its benefits for cognition. For one, it has been shown that bilinguals have a smaller lexicon (per language) than monolinguals - but generally, vocabulary keeps increasing over the lifespan, so I would not worry about that. Ellen Bialystok is a strong defender of the "bilingual advantage", arguing that cognitive skills are even better preserved in bilinguals than in monolinguals, and she provided cross-sectional data showing that symptoms of dementia are delayed by 4 years in bilinguals as compared to monolinguals. The group of Kenneth Paap challenges these findings, arguing that there is no bilingual advantage see Vaughn 2015 for a discussion, but there is little to no evidence suggesting a disadvantage for cognitive ability in bilinguals. Starting to learn a new language in adulthood is even more promising, as it has been shown to promote grey matter increase in areas also responsible for cognitive functions that are known to decline in old age (see Antoniou et al., 2013).

In summary, I do not know of "information ballast" impairing basic mental mechanisms, but knowing more than one language has certainly not been shown to decrease your mental health.


Does language learning improve or worsen the ability to remember and process information? - Psychology

Plenty of people think success is all about whom you know, but success is almost always based on what you know. That's why we all want to learn faster, retain more information, and improve our memories.

So let's look at some great -- and science-based -- ways to do just that.

The following is from Belle Beth Cooper and the folks at Buffer , a social media management tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social media updates.

Here's Belle Beth:

Science continually finds new connections between simple things we can do every day that will improve our general memory capacity.

Memory is a complicated process that's made up of a few different brain activities. Before we look at ways to improve retention, here's a simplified version to show how memory takes place:

  • Step 1. Create a memory. Our brain sends signals in a particular pattern associated with the event we're experiencing and creates connections between our neurons, called synapses.
  • Step 2. Consolidate the memory. Do nothing else and that memory could soon fade away. Consolidation is the process of committing something to long-term memory so we can recall it later. Much of this process happens while we're sleeping as our brains recreate that same pattern of brain activity and strengthen the synapses created earlier.
  • Step 3. Recall the memory. Recall is what most of us think of when we talk about memory or memory loss. Recalling a memory is easier if it has been strengthened over time, and each time we do we cycle through that same pattern of brain activity and make the connection a little stronger.

Now let's look at some of the ways research shows you can remember more and forget less:

1. Exercise to improve memory recall.

Studies in both rat and human brains have shown that regular exercise can improve memory recall. Fitness in older adults has even been proven to slow the decline of memory without the aid of continued regular exercise. In particular, studies have shown that regular exercise can improve spatial memory, so exercise may not necessarily be a way to improve all types of memory recall.

Of course the benefits of exercise are numerous, but for the brain in particular regular exercise is shown to improve cognitive abilities besides memory. So if you're looking for a way to stay mentally sharp, taking a walk could be the answer.

2. Chew gum to make stronger memories.

Another easy method that could improve your memory is to chew gum while you learn something new. Contradictory research exists so it's not a solid bet, but one study published last year showed that participants who completed a memory recall task were more accurate and had higher reaction times if they chewed gum during the study.

A reason that chewing gum might affect our memory recall is that it increases activity in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain for memory. (It's still unclear why this happens, though.)

Another theory focuses on the increase of oxygen from chewing gum and how that can improve focus and attention, helping us create stronger connections in the brain as we learn new things. One study found that participants who chewed gum during learning and memory tests had higher heart rate levels, a factor that can cause more oxygen to flow to the brain.

3. Drink coffee to improve memory consolidation. Whether caffeine can improve memory if taken before learning something new is debatable. Most research has found little to no effect from ingesting caffeine prior to creating new memories. One recent study, though, found that taking a caffeine pill after a learning task actually improved memory recall up to 24 hours later. Participants memorized a set of images and were later tested by viewing the same images (targets), similar images (lures), and completely different images (foils).

The task was to pick out which were the exact pictures they had memorized without being tricked by the lures (which were very similar.) This is a process called pattern separation, which according to the researchers reflects a "deeper level of memory retention." The researchers in this study focused on the effects of caffeine on memory consolidation: the process of strengthening the memories we've created.

That is why they believe the effects occurred when caffeine was ingested after the learning task rather than before. So don't just drink a little coffee to get started in the morning--drink a little coffee to hold on to more of what you learn throughout the day.

4. Meditate to improve working memory.

Working memory, which is a little like your brain's notepad, is where new information is temporarily held. When you learn someone's name or hear an address of a place you're going to, you hang on to those details in working memory until you're done with them. If they're no longer useful you let them go entirely. If they are useful, you commit them to long-term memory where they can be strengthened and recalled later.

Working memory is something we use every day, so it makes our lives a lot easier when it's stronger. While for most adults the maximum we can hold in our working memory is about seven items, if you're not quite using your working memory to its maximum capacity meditation can strengthen it.

Research has shown that participants with no experience in mindfulness meditation can improve their memory recall in just eight weeks. Meditation, with its power to help us concentrate, has also been shown to improve standardized test scores and working memory after just two weeks.

Why does meditation benefit memory? It's somewhat counterintuitive: During meditation your brain stops processing information as actively as it normally would.

So occasionally take a break to empty your mind. Not only will you feel a little less stressed, you may also remember a little more.

5. Eat berries for better long-term memory.

Research shows that eating berries can help stave off memory decline. A study from the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School found that supplementing a normal diet with blueberries for twelve weeks improved performance on spatial working memory tasks. The effects began after just three weeks and continued for the length of the study.

A long-term berry study that tested the memory of female nurses who were more than 70 years old found those who regularly ate at least two servings of strawberries or blueberries each week had a moderate reduction in memory decline. (The effects of strawberries might be debatable, though, since that study was partly funded by the California Strawberry Commission, and another study focusing on strawberries suggested that you'd need to eat roughly 10 pounds of strawberries per day to see any effect).

More research is needed in this area, but scientists are getting closer to understanding how berries might affect our brains. In particular, blueberries are known for being high in flavanoids, which appear to strengthen existing connections in the brain. That could explain their benefit on long-term memory.

And even if it turns out they don't help your memory much, berries are still really good for you.

6. Sleep more to consolidate memories.

Sleep is proven to be one of the most important elements in having a good memory. Since sleep is when most of our memory consolidation process occurs it makes sense that without enough sleep we will struggle to remember things we've learned.

Even a short nap can improve your memory recall. In one study participants memorized illustrated cards to test their memory strength. After memorizing a set of cards they took a 40-minute break and one group napped while the other group stayed awake. After the break both groups were tested on their memory of the cards.

To the surprise of the researchers the sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85 percent of the patterns compared to 60 percent for those who had remained awake.

Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain (specifically in the hippocampus) it's still "fragile" and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping seems to push memories to the neocortex, the brain's "more permanent storage," which prevents them from being "overwritten."

Not only is sleep after learning a critical part of the memory creation process, but sleep before learning something new is important as well. Research has found that sleep deprivation can affect our ability to commit new things to memory and consolidate any new memories we create.


Make Use of Memory Improvement Basics

There are a number of different things that you can do to improve your memory. Basic tips such as improving your focus, avoiding cram sessions, and structuring your study time are a good place to start, but there are even more lessons from psychology that can dramatically improve your learning efficiency.

Check out some of these memory improvement tips to maximize your memorization and retention of new information.


Changes in the Aging Brain

As a person gets older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain.

  • Certain parts of the brain shrink, especially those important to learning and other complex mental activities.
  • In certain brain regions, communication between neurons (nerve cells) may not be as effective.
  • Blood flow in the brain may decrease.
  • Inflammation, which occurs when the body responds to an injury or disease, may increase.

These changes in the brain can affect mental function, even in healthy older people. For example, some older adults may find that they don’t do as well as younger individuals on complex memory or learning tests. However, if given enough time to learn a new task, they usually perform just as well. Needing that extra time is normal as we age. There is growing evidence that the brain maintains the ability to change and adapt so that people can manage new challenges and tasks as they age.


Understanding The Learning Process To Effectively Differentiate Instruction

By The Center for Development and Learning

The underlying ability a teacher must have to orchestrate differentiated instruction day after day, hour after hour, by assessing his/her students and adjusting strategies and tactics moment by moment, requires sophisticated knowledge and skills.

To successfully use differentiated instruction, a teacher must first have a firm understanding of each of the cognitive components of the learning process, what they look like when they are working, and what the specific subcomponents of each look like when they are breaking down. Next, a teacher must develop a rich repertoire of strategies and tactics from which to pull the exact strategy or tactic that will address a specific breakdown for a specific task, at the right moment. Using a great strategy at the wrong time, or mismatching a strategy with breakdown for which the strategy will yield no gains, will frustrate students and teachers alike when the strategy fails to produce the desired result.

There are six interactive components of the learning process: attention, memory, language, processing and organizing, graphomotor (writing) and higher order thinking. These processes interact not only with each other, but also with emotions, classroom climate, behavior, social skills, teachers and family.

In order to engage, motivate and teach all learners at optimal levels, teachers must understand the learning process in general, understand and respond to students’ individual emotional and cognitive profiles and select instructional strategies and tactics that are effective for diverse learners.

Attention
Paying attention is the first step in learning anything. It is easy for most of us to pay attention to things that are interesting or exciting to us. It is difficult for most of us to pay attention to things that are not. When something is not interesting to us, it is easier to become distracted, to move to a more stimulating topic or activity, or to tune out.

The teacher’s job is to construct lessons that connect to the learner. Relating what is to be taught to the students’ lives can accomplish this. Relate Romeo and Juliet, for example, to the realities in our communities of prejudice, unfounded hatred and gang wars. Or relate today’s discrimination to The Diary of Anne Frank, and hold class discussions of discrimination that students have personally experienced or witnessed.

Physical movement can help to “wake up” a mind. When a student shows signs of inattentiveness and/or restlessness, teachers can provide the student with opportunities to move around. Many students with attention challenges actually need to move in order to remain alert. It is wise to find acceptable, non-destructive ways for these students to be active. Responsibilities such as erasing the board, taking a message to the office, and collecting papers can offer appropriate outlets for activity.

Memory
Memory is the complex process that uses three systems to help a person receive, use, store, and retrieve information. The three memory systems are (1) short-term memory (e.g., remembering a phone number you got from information just long enough to dial it), (2) working memory (e.g., keeping the necessary information “files” out on the mind’s “desktop” while performing a task such as writing a paragraph or working a long division problem), and (3) long-term memory (a mind’s ever expanding file cabinet for important information we want to retrieve over time).

Children in school have to remember much more information every day than most adults do. Adults generally have more specialized days – mechanics use and remember mechanical information, dentists use and remember information about dentistry, and so on. On the other hand, school expects that children become experts in several subjects – e.g., math, language, science, social studies, a foreign language, the arts.

It is important to remember that when a student understands something, it does not guarantee that he will remember it. For example, a person may understand a joke that he heard at a party on Saturday night, but he may have trouble remembering it when he tries to tell it to his friends on Monday.

In order to enhance the likelihood that all students will elaborate on new information, teachers should activate their prior knowledge and make new information meaningful to them. For example, a teacher may ask second graders how to divide a pan of brownies evenly among the 20 students in the class, and then connect their solution to the concept of equivalent fractions. Relating how algebraic equations need to be equal or balanced on both sides to the benefits of dividing candy or cookies evenly between friends also connects to prior knowledge.

Students who have difficulty with both short-term and working memory may need directions repeated to them. Giving directions both orally and in written form, and giving examples of what is expected will help all students. All students will benefit from self-testing. Students should be asked to identify the important information, formulate test questions and then answer them. This tactic is also effective in cooperative learning groups and has been shown by evidence-based research to increase reading comprehension (NICHD, 2000).

Language
Language is the primary means by which we give and receive information in school. The two language processing systems are expressive and receptive. We use expressive language when we speak and write, and we use receptive language when we read and listen. Students with good language processing skills usually do well in school. Problems with language, on the other hand, can affect a student’s ability to communicate effectively, understand and store verbal and written information, understand what others say, and maintain relationships with others.

Most students, especially those with weaknesses in written language, will benefit from using a staging procedure for both expository and creative writing. With this procedure, students first generate ideas. Next they may organize their ideas. Third, they may look at sentence structure. Then they examine their spelling. Finally, they attend to mechanical and grammatical rules. It is also helpful for students to list their most frequently occurring errors in a notebook and refer to this list when self-correcting.

All students will benefit from systematic, cumulative, and explicit teaching of reading and writing.

Students who have receptive language challenges such as a slower processing speed must use a lot of mental energy to listen, and, therefore, may tire easily. Consequently, short, highly structured lectures or group discussion times should be balanced with frequent breaks or quiet periods. Oral instructions may also need to be repeated and/or provided in written form.

Cooperative Strategic Reading (Klinger, Vaughan, Hughes, Schumm, and Elbaum as referenced in Marzola 2006) is another way to engage students in reading and at the same time increase oral language skills. This tactic is ideal for promoting intellectual discussion and improving reading comprehension of expository text in mixed-level classrooms across disciplines. Using this tactic, students are placed into cooperative learning groups of four to six students of mixed abilities. The students work together to accomplish four main tasks: (1) preview (skim over the material, determine what they know and what they want to learn), (2) identify clicks and clunks (clicks = we get it clunks = we don’t understand this concept, idea or word), (3) get the gist (main idea) and (4) wrap up (summarize important ideas and generate questions (think of questions the teacher might ask on a test). Each student in the group is assigned a role such as the leader/involver/taskmaster, the clunk expert, the gist expert, and the timekeeper/pacer (positive interdependence). Each student should be prepared to report the on the group’s conclusions (individual accountability).

Broadening the way we communicate information in the classroom can connect all students more to the topic at hand, and especially students with language challenges. Using visual communication such as pictures and videos to reinforce verbal communication is helpful to all students, and especially to students with receptive language challenges. Challenge students to invent ways to communicate with pictures and other visuals, drama, sculpture, dance and music, and watch memory of key concepts increase and classrooms come alive.

Organization
We process and organize information in two main ways: simultaneous (spatial) and successive (sequential). Simultaneous processing is the process we use to order or organize information in space. Having a good sense of direction and being able to “see” how puzzle pieces fit together are two examples of simultaneous processing. Successive processing is what we use to order or organize information in time and sequence. Concepts of time, dates, and order – yesterday, today, and tomorrow, months of the year, mathematical procedures such as division and multiplication, word order in sentences, and sentence order in paragraphs are examples of sequential processing. Students who are good at successive organization usually have little or no trouble with time management and usually find it easy to organize an essay in a sequence that is logical.

Students who have trouble with understanding spatial or geographical problems may need successive verbal explanations given to them. They may benefit from writing written explanations and descriptions of the information contained in charts, graphs or diagrams. Teachers should model this process for all students.

Students who have trouble remembering sequences of information but who are strong in simultaneous processing should benefit from graphic organizers, and making diagrams or flow charts of sequential information such as events in history rather than the standard timeline. They may benefit from software programs such as Inspiration that organize concepts and information into visual maps.

Practicing cooperative learning allows each student’s processing and organizing strengths to be utilized to the benefit of the group. For example, those who are strong in simultaneous organization may create the group’s chart, visual, or map, and those strong in successive organization may be the task step organizers, the taskmasters, timekeepers and pace setters.

Graphomotor
The writing process requires neural, visual, and muscular coordination to produce written work. It is not an act of will but rather an act of coordination among those functions. Often the student who seems unmotivated to complete written work is the student whose writing coordination is klutzy. We have long accepted that students may fall on a continuum from very athletic to clumsy when it comes to sports, but we have not known until recently that some students are writing “athletes” while others writing klutzes. Just as practice, practice, practice will not make a football all-star out of an absolute klutz, practice and acts of will not make a writing all-star out of someone whose neurological wiring does not allow her to be a high performing graphomotor athlete.

Students with handwriting difficulties may benefit from the opportunity to provide oral answers to exercises, quizzes, and tests. Having computers in place for all children helps level the playing field for the graphomotor klutz. Parents and teachers should be aware, however, that many children with graphomotor challenges may also have difficulty with the quick muscular coordination required by the keyboard.

Higher Order Thinking
Higher order thinking (HOT) is more than memorizing facts or relating information in exactly the same words as the teacher or book expresses it. Higher order thinking requires that we do something with the facts. We must understand and manipulate the information.

HOT includes concept formation concept connection problem solving grasping the “big picture” visualizing creativity questioning inferring creative, analytical and practical thinking and metacognition. Metacognition is thinking about thinking, knowing about knowing, and knowing how you think, process information, and learn.

All students will benefit from advance organizers that relate the big picture and the main concepts to be covered. Also, all students should be explicitly taught how to build concept maps (graphic organizers that connect all components of a concept, and may also connect one concept to another concept).

Give choices for projects and exams that include analytical, practical and creative thinking options. For example, an analytical choice might be to compare and contrast the events of the Holocaust to events in Rwanda. A practical choice might be to show how we can apply the lessons learned from the Holocaust to how we treat one another in our schools. A creative choice might be to write a play about tolerance, create a dance that communicates the emotions of the Holocaust, or write a poem or paint a picture that tells a story about how you feel about the conditions in Darfur.

Providing ample opportunities in the classroom for self-evaluation and self-reflection helps students develop self-understanding. Self-Evaluation… Helping Students Get Better At It! By Carol Rolheiser is listed in the reference section following this article and is a helpful resource for teachers who want to incorporate more student self-evaluation in their classrooms.

A student with metacognition can answer the question, “How am I smart?” The first part of metacognition is thinking about thinking. If a person has metacognition, he understands the way he thinks, and he understands his strengths and challenges in specific skill areas, subjects and activities.

A person with metacognition also monitors and regulates how he learns. He can take a task and decide how best to accomplish it by using his strategies and skills effectively. He knows how he would best learn a new math procedure and which strategies he would use to understand and remember a science concept. He understands the best way for him to organize an essay – whether he would be more successful by using an outline, a graphic organizer or a mind map. He has mental self-management.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg lists six components of mental self-management:
1. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
2. Capitalize on your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.
3. Defy negative expectations.
4. Believe in yourself (self-efficacy).
5. Seek out role models.
6. Seek out an environment where you can make a difference.

Ultimately, this is where we hope students who attend our schools will be upon graduation. As adults, we should model our own metacognition, talk about metacognition, and give meaningful examples of metacognition often and well.

Teaching students about the six components of the learning process – attention, memory, language, processing and organizing, graphomotor (writing) and higher order thinking, then, demystifies learning and provides an opportunity to increase their metacognition. It also enhances their sense of self-worth. A student who understands that she may need to use a particular strategy to help her working memory function better or that taking frequent breaks will help her stay more focused on her homework assignments is much better off than thinking that she is stupid or lazy.

Emotions
Emotions control the on-off switch to learning. When we are relaxed and calm, our learning processes have a green light. When we are uptight, anxious, or afraid, our learning processes have a red light. In the classroom, tension slams the steel door of the mind shut. Creating a non-threatening classroom environment or climate where mistakes are welcomed as learning opportunities reduces tension, opens the mind and increases the opportunity for learning.

The more teachers know about how learning takes place – how information is processed, manipulated and created, the more we will know about what it looks like when it’s working and what it looks like when it starts to break down. Then, rather than thinking a student isn’t motivated, teachers will look to see if it is attention, memory, language, organizing, graphomotor or higher order thinking that needs an intervention.

Motivation
It is every teacher’s job to motivate every student. Learning more about the brain and the development of the mind, studying new information on learning, making learning meaningful and learning about learning, watching the learning process, monitoring closely for breakdowns, and celebrating the successes of every student – these are our challenges as we create schools that honor diversity – the schools all children deserve.


Why Is It So Tough for Kids to Remember Lessons?

In the late 1880s, a prominent psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, created “the forgetting curve.” Today’s researchers still refer to this measure of how much people forget. Without conscientious efforts to reinforce lessons, Ebbinghaus concluded students forget about 56 percent of what they learn within one hour, 66 percent within one day, and 75 percent within six days.

In June 2017, neurobiologists explain in an article in the journal Neuron that without employing strategies to retain knowledge, the brain is “wired to forget” from an evolutionary standpoint. Information not crucial to survival is discarded by the brain as extraneous. Clearly, that’s a huge problem and illustrates the importance of teaching students strategies to retain what they learn.


Effect of working memory capacity on new language learning

Research with children has demonstrated that the ability to learn new words is greatly affected by working memory span - specifically, by how much information they can hold in that part of working memory called "phonological short-term memory". The constraining effect of working memory capacity on the ability to learn new words appears to continue into adolescence.

But, as you grow in experience, building a vocabulary, this constraint becomes less important. Because working memory capacity is measured in "chunks" - and the amount of information contained in a chunk is extremely malleable. To a large extent, developing chunking strategies is what memory improvement is all about.

In terms of learning another language, there are essentially four possible classes of word:

  • words that are already familiar because they are the same in your native language (or another known language)
  • words that are already familiar because they involve words that you already know in that language (e.g., learning a related verb form, or learning a word made up of two words you already know, such as sweat-shirt)
  • words that resemble a known word with similar or related meaning (e.g., Russian garlo means throat, and the word garlo resembles the word gargle)
  • words that have no ready association to known words

It appears that in these first three cases, the size of your phonological short-term memory is of no significant relevance. It is only in the last case - where the word cannot utilize any meaningful associations - that your phonological short-term memory capacity becomes important.

Fairly obviously, as your knowledge of language (your own and others) grows, the more meaningful associations you will be able to make, and the fewer new words will fall into this last, difficult, category.

This suggests, of course, the usefulness of a mnemonic strategy (specifically, the keyword strategy) in the last, difficult case.


How Exercise Could Help You Learn a New Language

Learning a second language as an adult is difficult. But the process may be eased if you exercise while learning.

A new study reports that working out during a language class amplifies people’s ability to memorize, retain and understand new vocabulary. The findings provide more evidence that to engage our minds, we should move our bodies.

In recent years, a wealth of studies in both animals and people have shown that we learn differently if we also exercise. Lab rodents given access to running wheels create and maintain memories better than animals that are sedentary, for instance. And students consistently perform better on academic tests if they participate in some kind of physical activity during the school day.

Many scientists suspect that exercise alters the biology of the brain in ways that make it more malleable and receptive to new information, a process that scientists refer to as plasticity.

But many questions have remained unanswered about movement and learning, including whether exercise is most beneficial before, during or after instruction and how much and what types of exercise might be best.

So for the new study, which was published recently in PLOS One, researchers in China and Italy decided to home in on language learning and the adult brain.

Language learning is interesting. As young children, almost all of us picked up our first language easily. We didn’t have to be formally taught we simply absorbed words and concepts.

But by early adulthood, the brain generally begins to lose some of its innate language capability. It displays less plasticity in areas of the brain related to language. As a result, for most of us, it becomes harder to learn a second language after childhood.

To see what effects exercise might have on this process, the researchers first recruited 40 college-age Chinese men and women who were trying to learn English. The students had some facility with this second language but were far from proficient.

The researchers then divided the students into two groups. Those in one group would continue to learn English as they had before, primarily while seated in rote vocabulary-memorization sessions.

The others would supplement these sessions with exercise.

Specifically, the students would ride exercise bikes at a gentle pace (about 60 percent of their maximum aerobic capacity) beginning 20 minutes before the start of the lessons and continuing throughout the 15 minutes or so of instruction.

Both groups learned their new vocabulary by watching words projected onto large screens, together with comparable pictures, such as “apple” and a Red Delicious. They were shown 40 words per session, with the sequence repeated several times.

Afterward, the students all rested briefly and then completed a vocabulary quiz, using computer keys to note as quickly as possible whether a word was with its correct picture. They also responded to sentences using the new words, marking whether the sentences were accurate or, in the case of “The apple is a dentist,” nonsensical. Most linguists feel that understanding sentences shows greater mastery of a new language than does simple vocabulary improvement.

The students completed eight vocabulary sessions over the course of two months.

And at the end of each lesson, the students who had ridden bikes performed better on the subsequent vocabulary tests than did the students who sat still.

They also became more proficient at recognizing proper sentences than the sedentary students, although that difference did not emerge until after several weeks of instruction.

Perhaps most interesting, the gains in vocabulary and comprehension lingered longest for the cyclists. When the researchers asked the students to return to the lab for a final round of testing a month after the lessons — without practicing in the meantime — the cyclists remembered words and understood them in sentences more accurately than did the students who had not moved.

“The results suggest that physical activity during learning improves that learning,” says Simone Sulpizio, a professor of psychology and linguistics at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan, Italy, and a study co-author.

These improvements extend beyond simply aiding in memorization, she added. The exercise also deepened language learners’ grasp of how to use their newly acquired words.

This study involved college students performing relatively light exercise, though, and cannot tell us whether other people completing other types of exercise would achieve the same results.

It also offers no clues about what is occurring inside the brain that might be contributing to the benefits of the exercise. But many past studies have shown that exercise prompts the release of multiple neurochemicals in the brain that increase the number of new brain cells and the connections between neurons, Dr. Sulpizio says. These effects improve the brain’s plasticity and augment the ability to learn.

From a real-world standpoint, the study’s implications might seem at first to be impractical. Few classrooms are equipped with stationary bicycles. But specialized equipment is probably unnecessary, Dr. Sulpizio says.

“We are not suggesting that schools or teachers buy lots of bicycles,” she says. “A simpler take-home message may be that instruction should be flanked by physical activity. Sitting for hours and hours without moving is not the best way to learn.”


Does language learning improve or worsen the ability to remember and process information? - Psychology

Plenty of people think success is all about whom you know, but success is almost always based on what you know. That's why we all want to learn faster, retain more information, and improve our memories.

So let's look at some great -- and science-based -- ways to do just that.

The following is from Belle Beth Cooper and the folks at Buffer , a social media management tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social media updates.

Here's Belle Beth:

Science continually finds new connections between simple things we can do every day that will improve our general memory capacity.

Memory is a complicated process that's made up of a few different brain activities. Before we look at ways to improve retention, here's a simplified version to show how memory takes place:

  • Step 1. Create a memory. Our brain sends signals in a particular pattern associated with the event we're experiencing and creates connections between our neurons, called synapses.
  • Step 2. Consolidate the memory. Do nothing else and that memory could soon fade away. Consolidation is the process of committing something to long-term memory so we can recall it later. Much of this process happens while we're sleeping as our brains recreate that same pattern of brain activity and strengthen the synapses created earlier.
  • Step 3. Recall the memory. Recall is what most of us think of when we talk about memory or memory loss. Recalling a memory is easier if it has been strengthened over time, and each time we do we cycle through that same pattern of brain activity and make the connection a little stronger.

Now let's look at some of the ways research shows you can remember more and forget less:

1. Exercise to improve memory recall.

Studies in both rat and human brains have shown that regular exercise can improve memory recall. Fitness in older adults has even been proven to slow the decline of memory without the aid of continued regular exercise. In particular, studies have shown that regular exercise can improve spatial memory, so exercise may not necessarily be a way to improve all types of memory recall.

Of course the benefits of exercise are numerous, but for the brain in particular regular exercise is shown to improve cognitive abilities besides memory. So if you're looking for a way to stay mentally sharp, taking a walk could be the answer.

2. Chew gum to make stronger memories.

Another easy method that could improve your memory is to chew gum while you learn something new. Contradictory research exists so it's not a solid bet, but one study published last year showed that participants who completed a memory recall task were more accurate and had higher reaction times if they chewed gum during the study.

A reason that chewing gum might affect our memory recall is that it increases activity in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain for memory. (It's still unclear why this happens, though.)

Another theory focuses on the increase of oxygen from chewing gum and how that can improve focus and attention, helping us create stronger connections in the brain as we learn new things. One study found that participants who chewed gum during learning and memory tests had higher heart rate levels, a factor that can cause more oxygen to flow to the brain.

3. Drink coffee to improve memory consolidation. Whether caffeine can improve memory if taken before learning something new is debatable. Most research has found little to no effect from ingesting caffeine prior to creating new memories. One recent study, though, found that taking a caffeine pill after a learning task actually improved memory recall up to 24 hours later. Participants memorized a set of images and were later tested by viewing the same images (targets), similar images (lures), and completely different images (foils).

The task was to pick out which were the exact pictures they had memorized without being tricked by the lures (which were very similar.) This is a process called pattern separation, which according to the researchers reflects a "deeper level of memory retention." The researchers in this study focused on the effects of caffeine on memory consolidation: the process of strengthening the memories we've created.

That is why they believe the effects occurred when caffeine was ingested after the learning task rather than before. So don't just drink a little coffee to get started in the morning--drink a little coffee to hold on to more of what you learn throughout the day.

4. Meditate to improve working memory.

Working memory, which is a little like your brain's notepad, is where new information is temporarily held. When you learn someone's name or hear an address of a place you're going to, you hang on to those details in working memory until you're done with them. If they're no longer useful you let them go entirely. If they are useful, you commit them to long-term memory where they can be strengthened and recalled later.

Working memory is something we use every day, so it makes our lives a lot easier when it's stronger. While for most adults the maximum we can hold in our working memory is about seven items, if you're not quite using your working memory to its maximum capacity meditation can strengthen it.

Research has shown that participants with no experience in mindfulness meditation can improve their memory recall in just eight weeks. Meditation, with its power to help us concentrate, has also been shown to improve standardized test scores and working memory after just two weeks.

Why does meditation benefit memory? It's somewhat counterintuitive: During meditation your brain stops processing information as actively as it normally would.

So occasionally take a break to empty your mind. Not only will you feel a little less stressed, you may also remember a little more.

5. Eat berries for better long-term memory.

Research shows that eating berries can help stave off memory decline. A study from the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School found that supplementing a normal diet with blueberries for twelve weeks improved performance on spatial working memory tasks. The effects began after just three weeks and continued for the length of the study.

A long-term berry study that tested the memory of female nurses who were more than 70 years old found those who regularly ate at least two servings of strawberries or blueberries each week had a moderate reduction in memory decline. (The effects of strawberries might be debatable, though, since that study was partly funded by the California Strawberry Commission, and another study focusing on strawberries suggested that you'd need to eat roughly 10 pounds of strawberries per day to see any effect).

More research is needed in this area, but scientists are getting closer to understanding how berries might affect our brains. In particular, blueberries are known for being high in flavanoids, which appear to strengthen existing connections in the brain. That could explain their benefit on long-term memory.

And even if it turns out they don't help your memory much, berries are still really good for you.

6. Sleep more to consolidate memories.

Sleep is proven to be one of the most important elements in having a good memory. Since sleep is when most of our memory consolidation process occurs it makes sense that without enough sleep we will struggle to remember things we've learned.

Even a short nap can improve your memory recall. In one study participants memorized illustrated cards to test their memory strength. After memorizing a set of cards they took a 40-minute break and one group napped while the other group stayed awake. After the break both groups were tested on their memory of the cards.

To the surprise of the researchers the sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85 percent of the patterns compared to 60 percent for those who had remained awake.

Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain (specifically in the hippocampus) it's still "fragile" and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping seems to push memories to the neocortex, the brain's "more permanent storage," which prevents them from being "overwritten."

Not only is sleep after learning a critical part of the memory creation process, but sleep before learning something new is important as well. Research has found that sleep deprivation can affect our ability to commit new things to memory and consolidate any new memories we create.


Make Use of Memory Improvement Basics

There are a number of different things that you can do to improve your memory. Basic tips such as improving your focus, avoiding cram sessions, and structuring your study time are a good place to start, but there are even more lessons from psychology that can dramatically improve your learning efficiency.

Check out some of these memory improvement tips to maximize your memorization and retention of new information.


What Is Learning And Memory?

Memories are the internal mental records that we maintain, which give us instant access to our personal past, complete with all of the facts that we know and the skills that we have cultivated. Encoding, storage, and retrieval are the three primary stages of the human memory process. (Forgetting may constitute the fourth stage of memory, although forgetting is technically a setback in memory retrieval).

During the encoding stage, information is sent to the brain, where it is dissected into its most significant composing elements. An ensemble of brain cells processes incoming stimuli and translates that information into a specialized neural code. In the storage phase of memory formation, the brain must retain encoded data over extended periods of time. Retrieval constitutes the right of entry into the infinite world of stored information, where we bring old information out of permanent memory back into working memory, which can be mentally manipulated for usage.

Theoretically, learning is the capability of modifying information already stored in memory based on new input or experiences. Since memory is contingent upon prior learning, the first step in memory is learning, which occurs when our sensory systems send information to the brain. Our sensory system can hold numerous items simultaneously, but only momentarily. Learning is an active process that involves sensory input to the brain, which occurs automatically, and an ability to extract meaning from sensory input by paying attention to it long enough to reach working (short-term) memory, where consideration for transfer into permanent (long-term) memory takes place.

Sensory information enters consciousness naturally in two subtypes, both of which are somewhat fleeting. Iconic memories of visual information have a duration of 0.3 seconds, while echoic memories of auditory information will last about four to five seconds. The brain shows more partiality to iconic information. (See: “Visualization and Memory Lists”). Vision has a much longer history in the human experience than does the printed word. By exploiting this competency, students learn quickly when they can visualize the concept while studying, by directed use of the mind’s eye, where mental pictures can be developed.

Writing words in the air on an imaginary blackboard forces students not only to visualize the order of letters in a word, but to maintain visually what they have already written in working memory as they continue to write. From first grade to medical school, this technique is equally effective. When young learners are taught to construct diagrams that show relationships (graphic organizers), their memory of content improves substantially. Robert Marzano found that these “nonlinguistic representations” can increase achievement scores by 27 percentile points.

We constantly perceive vast amounts of information each minute, but we make no attempt to recall very much of it. Equally important, we cannot remember information that we failed to encode for memory storage in the first place.

Once the elements that make up an experience are classified according to their special traits, each part is shunted to a different brain region for further detailed analysis, where a comparative search for recognizable similarities to previously encountered information begins. The various pieces of new information get stored in neural circuits distributed throughout the cerebral cortex. Because the elements making up a memory reside in multiple cortical areas, the stronger the network linking the associated pieces together, the more resistant to it will be to forgetting.

As the brain transacts learning events, physical changes occur both within brain circuitry and in its structure-function correlations. Here the brain parts company with the popular comparisons to a digital video recorder. Memory is quite fluid, and, over time, the brain continues to revisit and reorganize stored information with each subsequent experience in a cyclical fashion, reprogramming its contents through a repetitive updating procedure known as brain plasticity. This is advantageous, since improvements are made repeatedly to existing data. Prior knowledge is revised based on new input, resulting in a more accurate representation of the current world, increasing one’s probability of thriving. The flip side of these constant memory revisions is that eyewitness accounts often become less reliable with the passage of time.

With new experiences, we amend, rather than maintain and protect, our past memories — occasionally changing them beyond recognition. The newly stored information has been altered, forming new and modified representations of events and our malleable knowledge, which serve as our guides to the environment.


Habit No. 2: don’t binge study

The second habit of successful language learners is that they don’t binge. Instead, they develop a habit of distributed practice, or a number of short study sessions over a longer period of time. To illustrate this, Figure 4 shows the variation (relative standard deviation) in the number of daily sessions. For successful learners, this variation is lower, which means they do a more consistent number of lessons and practice sessions every day. Higher variation, on the other hand, means users pop in every now and then for a marathon to play catch-up. These binge studiers are more likely to give up.

Many psychology studies have also shown that cramming material into a shorter time frame reduces learning, compared to distributed practice. This is true for all kinds of skills, from learning a language to throwing a ball, playing a video game or flying an airplane (see this article for a meta-analysis of decades of research on this topic). To master a language, you are better off studying a consistent amount — no matter how small — as regularly as possible. Bonus: You’ll probably stick with it and learn more, too.