Learning a new language makes the brain grow, according to a new study. Swedish scientists studied young recruits at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy by measuring the brains of participants before and after the language training.

Students accepted to the academy typically go from having no knowledge of a language such as Arabic, Russian or Mandarin to speaking it fluently after 13 months.  Recruits at this academy study from morning to evening, weekdays and weekends and the recruits study at a pace quicker than any other language course.   

Researchers compared students at the language academy with a control group made up of medicine and cognitive science students at Umeå University. Researchers explained that the non-language students at the university still studied hard, but not languages.

Both groups had undergone MRI scans before and after a three-month period of intensive study. Results of the study show that while the brain structure of the control group remained unchanged, specific parts of the brain of language students grew. Researchers found the hippocampus, which is a deep-lying brain structure that is involved in learning new material and spatial navigation, and some areas in the cerebral cortex grew in size after three months of an intensive language course.

"We were surprised that different parts of the brain developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to put in to keep up with the course," researcher Johan Mårtensson, of Lund University, Sweden, said in a statement.

Additionally, researchers found greater growth in the hippocampus and areas of the cerebral cortex related to language leaning, like the superior temporal gyrus, in those who with better language skills compared to other students.

Researchers noted that students who had to put more effort into leaning a new language exhibited greater growth in the motor region of the cerebral cortex  or the middle frontal gyrus. Researchers linked that the areas of the brain in which the changes take place to how easy one finds it to learn a language and development varies according to performance.

Previous studies found that Alzheimer's disease has a later onset in bilingual or multilingual groups and researchers from the latest study said that learning a new language is a good way to keep the brain healthy.

"Even if we cannot compare three months of intensive language study with a lifetime of being bilingual, there is a lot to suggest that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in shape," Mårtensson concluded.

The study was published in the journal NeuroImage.