Institute of Education


Multilanguage acquisition across the lifespan

A study investigating the effects of multilanguage acquisition on cognitive development


The growing interest in bilingualism and multilingualism is not surprising given that more than half of the world's population (about 3 billion people) regularly speak more than one language (Grosjean, 2010).


As far as Europe is concerned, the European Commission published a report (Europeans and their languages, Eurobarometer 243, 2006) in which a large sample of European citizens were asked how many languages they spoke other than their mother tongue.

Fifty-six percent of the people in 25 countries replied that they could have a conversation in a second language, and 28% replied they spoke a third. Great Britain is one of the most "monolingual" countries in Europe; nonetheless, 38% of those polled claimed they could speak a second language. 


Leverhulme Trust (RPG-024-2015)

Project impact

This research addresses an important field of enquiry within developmental psychology, educational psychology and cognitive neuroscience.

Enhancing cognitive abilities

It has the potential to impact on child and teenage learning abilities by advocating second language learning, and potentially offsetting the effects of age related degenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's, in adults and the elderly.

Applied educational research

The studies have the potential for high-scientific impact and should lead to more applied educational basic research being undertaken, benefitting organisations within academic environments and the wider community.

Educators, parents, and medical professionals will benefit from learning more about the ways in which cognitive abilities can be enhanced during early development and protect against age related deterioration.

Model for language learning

Our research, through the identification of the period in which second language learning exerts the greatest positive influence on cognitive ability, will highlight the optimal model for the promotion of language learning.

Magnetic resonance imaging

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) study component will enable us to identify how bilingualism can exert an influence on specific areas of the brain during development and degeneration associated with ageing.

Correlations with cognitive performance

If, as we predict, such structural differences correlate positively with cognitive performance it would be consistent with a neurological benefit associated with bilingualism.

Interested in participating?

Person entering MRI scanner

We are conducting a study investigating the effects of multilanguage acquisition on cognitive development.

Purpose of the study

The study will help us find out more about the brain - in particular, how the brain learns to speak multiple languages. Only then can we know whether learning and speaking two (or more) languages at a certain point of our lives is beneficial for cognitive development and brain protection from the effect of ageing.

This knowledge will help us to design better educational programmes for healthy children and better treatments for those who have problems.

Who we are looking for

Healthy people, between 7 and 80 years old, are invited.

We are looking for monolinguals (English as native language) and bilinguals/multilinguals (English + any other language/s).

Steps required

Participation in the study will require three steps:

  • Complete online questionnaire that shares information about your linguistic experience (it takes about 15 minutes): select Adults questionnaire or Children questionnaire.
  • Take a test on a series of cognitive measures (memory, attention, verbal and non-verbal tasks) presented on a computer. The session will take approximately 90 minutes.
  • Brain scan at our Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) unit at UCL. The procedure is completely safe and short (approximately 6 minutes in the scanner).


If you have any questions, please email eva.thomas@ucl.ac.uk