Language can take many forms. Whether you are learning a new spoken language, programming language, sign language or other forms, you can expect to flex your brain in challenging new ways. Brain-boosting nootropics for language can help.
This guide discusses how the brain learns and processes language, and how the best nootropics may help us to utilize various languages to communicate more effectively.
What is Language?
By definition, language is a system of human communication that uses words or symbols in a structured way to communicate information from one person to others. More specifically, language methods are often distinct to particular countries or communities.
Language systems consist of the development, acquisition, and use of complex communication approaches. A language is a certain example of such a system, while linguistics is the scientific study of language.
Why is Language Important?
Language is powerful. It allows us to transmit complicated thoughts and ideas to each other with a level of detail, emotion, and nuance that few other communication systems can.
People speak around 7,000 languages throughout the world. World languages differ from one another in many ways. Languages can have unique sounds, different vocabularies and, very importantly, different structures.
Communication is Universal, But Languages Can be Worlds Apart
The Kuuk Thaayorre are an aboriginal tribe in Australia whose language structure is very different from most languages. Instead of the words left or right they reference everything using cardinal directions: north, south, east and west. For instance, in Paman (the language of the Kuuk Thaayorre) you would say "There's a bee near your southeast leg."
Instead of saying "hello," in Paman the typical greeting is, "Which way are you going?" The answer would be something like, "I’m going south-southwest in the far distance. What about you?"
Because of this linguistic predilection for direction, the Kuuk Thaayorre stay oriented better than we used to think humans were capable of.<1>
Language and the Brain
There are many different types of language, and it would be unfair and incomplete to focus on verbal communication alone. The brain processes language a little bit differently, depending on whether it’s spoken, written, or something else – like sign language or music.
We’ll explore the most common language systems in the world today, how they work in the brain and how nootropics for language can help promote better language and language learning skills.
The auditory cortex spans both brain hemispheres in the upper region of the temporal lobe, and makes up part of the superior temporal gyrus. Although we know the auditory cortex is closely involved in speech and language, it is so complex our current understanding of its exact mechanisms are ambiguous at best.
We do have evidence that shows the auditory cortex processes sounds that are received by the ear through lower auditory functions. Sounds don’t have to be intelligible to trigger a response in the auditory cortex, it just responds to sound waves, period.
In humans, this is the neural center for verbal language processing. But it doesn’t just receive sound, it also transmits signals to other areas in the cerebral cortex, including Broca’s Area, Wernicke’s Area, the Supramarginal Gyrus, and the Angular Gyrus.
Broca’s area is a region of the inferior frontal gyrus, usually located in the left frontal lobe, that controls speech and language production. The location of Broca’s area, however, can be fluid depending on the dominant brain hemisphere.
Damage to Broca’s area can affect speech and language production, but it generally does not affect language comprehension. Broca’s area can cause speech and language loss or impairment when damaged, such as during stroke.
But language doesn’t always suffer from damage to Broca’s area. Neuroplasticity allows speech function and language production to shift to other, related brain regions.<2>
Wernicke’s area is located in the posterior superior temporal gyrus and encircles the auditory cortex in the lateral sulcus, where the temporal lobes and parietal lobes meet, usually in the left cerebral hemisphere.
Alternatively, Wernicke's area, like Broca's, can be found in the right hemisphere of 5 percent of right-handed people and 40 percent of left-handed individuals.
Wernicke’s area is involved in the comprehension of spoken and written language. FMRI imaging implicates this region in auditory word recognition and shows connection with Broca’s area via the uncinate fasciculus.
Experts today believe two factors enable us to communicate verbally.
- Physical coupling to the sound wave being transmitted to your brain
- A common neural protocol that enables us to communicate
To come to this conclusion, researchers used fMRI technology to scan people’s brains while they were either telling or listening to real-life stories.
Before the story starts, activity in major language centers are going up and down in each person, but the responses are very different and not synchronized. But as soon as the story begins, something amazing happens.
Suddenly, brain responses in all of the subjects sync up and form an up and down pattern that is closely parallel across all listeners. This is called neural entrainment.
The frontal cortex and parietal cortex light up with activity during the story-telling, which involves using full sentences and completion of context to relay the message to listeners.
These higher order cognitive functions are only activated while listeners are engaged in a time-based information construct - in this instance a story.
The same thing happens when we are listening to a set of instructions, description of a procedure, or a succinct idea or plan.
Memory is important in order to understand language of any kind, and the hippocampus is the memory center of the brain. The hippocampus processes incoming short-term memory and turns important information into long-term memory.
Whether you’re learning a new language or using the one you learned from birth, the hippocampus is critical for learning and recalling information, including that presented the form of words and phrases, written or spoken.
Without the hippocampus, you might be able to understand language-driven communication in the moment, but you would be hard-pressed to store that information or remember it later.
Because the hippocampus is in charge of deciding which information is important and what is not, we could consider it cognitively responsible for “selective hearing” – when one hears information but fails to record it for later use.
Language Shapes the Way We Think
There is a big difference in cognitive ability across languages. The Kuuk Thaayore have superior spatial reasoning because their language constantly reinforces spatial awareness and directional orientation.
And there are many more linguistic differences throughout language that shape our perception of things like time, color, numbers, gender, and even more intangible things like feeling and blame.
Charlemagne, Holy Roman emperor, said, "To have a second language is to have a second soul"
Space and Time
Language affects how people think about space and time. This cognitive perspective is influenced by writing direction. For example, English language is written and read horixontally from left to right.
On the other hand, Hebrew or Arabic writing is read from right to left. And Chinese write characters from top to bottom and left to right.
Native speakers of these languages are most likely to arrange pictorial timelines in the same fashion as their writing.
For the Kuuk Thaayorre, time, like language, is relative to the landscape, so they arrange timelines differently depending on the direction they are facing, using an eastward orientation.
They will arrange pictorial timelines differently according to the direction they are facing. If they are facing west, then time is arranged one way, and if you are facing south, time is arranged another way.
Language informs this dramatically different way of thinking about time.<3>
Languages also inform how people perceive the visual world. For instance, some languages have many words for varying shades and hues of colors, while some only have two – light and dark. These language discrepancies regarding color have real-time effects on the human brain.
- In one study, researchers showed participants a screen with the color blue. The screen slowly shifted from light to dark blue, while researchers monitored subjects’ brain activity.
The brains of those who use different words for light and dark blue showed a surprised reaction as the colors shift from light to dark, but the brains of English speakers (who do not make this distinction) did not show surprise.<4>
These are very basic, early perceptual distinctions. We make thousands of them all the time, yet language has been informing even these tiny little perceptual decisions since early childhood.
In English and other languages that have number words, counting is cognitive trick we are taught to use as kids, and it is actually a linguistic skill more than a mathematical one. We learn the number list and how to apply it.
But some languages don't do this because they don't have words for exact numbers. These languages don't have words like “five" or "six," so people who speak these languages don't count numerically, and they have trouble with exact quantities.
Just having number words in language opens up a whole world of mathematically-related skills and gives societies a big stepping stone into a whole other cognitive realm.<5>
Many languages use grammatical gender – every noun is assigned a gender, usually masculine or feminine. And genders differ across languages.
In German the sun is feminine and the moon is masculine, but in Spanish the moon is feminine and the sun is masculine. This gender-relation actually affects how people think.
In German, a bridge is grammatically feminine, and German speakers more likely to describe bridges as beautiful, elegant, and other typically feminine words. But a bridge is masculine in Spanish, so native speakers are more likely to use masculine words like strong or long.
This type of grammatical gender assignment can influence the way people think about anything that can be named by a noun.<6>
Languages also vary in how they describe events. If someone accidentally breaks something, English speakers typically say "She broke the glass." Spanish speakers are more likely to say, "The glass broke."
Because of this simple language discrepancy, English speakers are more likely to remember who broke the glass, but Spanish speakers are more likely to remember that it was an accident rather than who was at fault.<7>
This perceptual difference means people can observe the exact same incident but remember it in different ways, and this can have far-reaching consequences. It potentially makes eyewitness testimony unreliable and can have serious implications for things like blame and punishment.
In Praise of Linguistic Diversity
Linguistic diversity shows us just how flexible and creative the human mind is. Our minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but around 7,000 with varying degrees of cognitive variance existing within world languages.
People who speak different languages think differently, but it’s not about how other people think. It's about how you think and how the language that you speak shapes the way that you think.
This realization can spur you to ask, "Why do I think the way I do?" "How could I think differently?" And, "What thoughts do I want to create?"
Types of Language
Spoken language uses many variables other than words to communicate, including tone of voice, volume, pitch, and rhythmic modulations. Even if we are not fluent in the language we are hearing, we can usually easily distinguish a question from a warning, or an enthusiastic statement from an angry one.
Neuroscientist David Levin suggests that spoken language is an evolutionary derivative from early human methods of communication which likely used primitive, but highly effective, combinations of rhythm, pitch, and dynamics to convey ideas among each other. Many spoken languages and speech patterns make frequent use of common musical intervals.
Although specifics vary widely across spoken languages, auditory cues like speech patterns, vocal tonality, pitch progressions, and dynamics are undeniably similar across both modern and historical languages.<8>
While spoken language has been used for thousands of years, in Western culture reading and writing was reserved for the privileged few for much of our known history.
Illiteracy is not as common as it was a few hundred years ago, but it is still more prevalent than most people may think, even in developed countries – including the United States.
Writing is a learned skill that can allow us access to information we might not otherwise have. Writing is a creative pursuit, a self-improvement tool, an important workplace communication tool, and even a career in itself.
Many nootropics for writing also work well as nootropics for language.
Boosting your writing skills with nootropics can enhance your writing and language skills like writing and reading well can enhance your quality of life.
With the advent of text messaging, social media, and other textual-driven communication methods, the language we use to communicate is evolving.
We have essentially developed a whole new, multilingual language for communicating via technological devices called SMS (short message service).
This language uses abbreviations, pictograms, and emoticons to convey simple communiques that represent thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
It’s almost as if modern society is rediscovering the value of ancient pictographic language styles like Egyptian hieroglyphs or even early cave paintings - one of the first methods of written communication devised by our ancestors.
Computer Programming (Coding)
Language is a creative construct, and we are constructing new languages all the time. Computer programming, or coding, is a new language specifically intended to communicate with artificial intelligence like computers and software programs.
Many people think of coding as a mathematical language, but studies show that computer programming actually activates language centers in the brain more than logical, mathematical regions.
Many programmers strive for a flow state in order to write and interpret code faster and more effectively. Nootropics for flow state can help with many of the elements necessary for efficient coding – like concentration, motivation, focus, and mood.
Music is a language all its own. Since music itself contains no words, it communicates through auditory cues like pitch, tone, rhythm, and tempo. The human brain processes music using the same centers it uses to comprehend verbal language – including the auditory cortex, temporal lobes, and prefrontal cortex.
Music is often called a universal language because of its ability to elicit the same emotional understanding from people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. While spoken language incorporates tonality, dynamics, and rhythm to convey meaning, music relies solely on these more right-brained cognitive interpretations to communicate ideas, trigger memory, and influence thoughts.
Consistent, real-world results show that music can be highly effective for improving some important cognitive functions in people with neurological deficits like stroke, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. This realization is revamping the way health systems are dealing with cognitive disorders and brain trauma.
Many nootropics for language are also nootropics for music, and multi-approach stacks like these can promote overall brain health more effectively than single supplements.
Sign language bypasses the auditory cortex, but it engages Broca's area an Wernicke's area like spoken and written language do. Signers with damage to Wernicke's area have difficulty understanding language signs, while those with damage to Broca's area have difficulty producing signs.
The brains of hearing-impaired people watching sign language do show more activity in occipito-temporal regions specialized for visual processing than hearing people presented with a speaking model.
But research indicates the differences between spoken language and sign language lie mainly within processing modalities rather than linguistic aspects.<9>
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Language
Citicoline can help with language learning and retention by boosting acetylcholine levels. This foundation nootropic supplies CDP choline, a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). Acetylcholine supports brain cell communication, memory, and overall brain health.
A 2011 study found that higher choline intake boosts verbal and visual memory and positively affects learning.<10>
Many nootropic users consider CDP choline an essential part of every stack. Safe, effectively, and exceptionally well-tolerated, choline alone is a memory enhancer and brain protector, but it can be a powerful potentiator when combined with other nootropic agents.
(PS) is a phospholipid that protects neurons from toxic degeneration and supports brain cell regeneration by preserving the flexible, fluid, fatty membrane that surrounds brain cells and helps to maintains healthy brain function.
- Research shows how phosphatidylserine's benefits directly support language and communication skills by boosting all memory-related cognitive functions, improving attention and focus, and enhancing reasoning and problem-solvingabilities.<11>
Plus, PS has been shown to reduce stress and increase endurance, which could help you communicate more effectively and choose your words more wisely during stressful verbal interactions.
Lion's Mane Mushroom
Lion's Mane Mushroom is highly regarded for supporting NGF (nerve growth factor). NGF in turn helps to promote brain plasticity -- the connecting and re-arranging of neurons in the brain in response to new learning.
- In supporting NGF, Lion's Mane may help to promote the healthy brain plasticity that underlies learning a new language.
Lion's Mane stacks especially well with Citicoline and PS in this regard; together these three nootropics supply raw materials, signaling factors and energy that are needed to form new brain pathways in response to new language.
Since its discovery in ancient India, people have been using bacopa monnieri to enhance memory, improve learning, boost mood, studying, and support brain health for centuries.
Because languages are ever-evolving and some languages are vast in scope and use, memory and learning are essential for building language competence and improving communication skills.
- Studies indicate Bacopa could support memory retention by “decreasing the rate of forgetting newly acquired information.”<12>
Bacopa works for language learning and communication by promoting serotonin, acetylcholine and GABA levels in the brain. Serotonin plays a role in memory consolidation, while GABA influences neural communication, memory formation, and learning.
Mind Lab Pro®’s Bacopa contains 9 active bacosides that may boost memory and speed up visual information processing for better reading comprehension skills.
Although it does not directly influence language learning, L-theanine has some impressive benefits that can indirectly influence language learning and comprehension and boost interpersonal communication skills.
- One John Hopkins University study noted that L-theanine strengthens theta brain waves, which help boost memory and cognition. Other studies show it can improve learning, memory, and focus by inducing an alpha brainwave state that promotes relaxed attentiveness.
All of these cognitive tools help improve language learning and communication.
Good memory and focus are important for language learning and comprehension. N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT) has shown promising results in clinical studies regarding improved cognitive performance and motivation in general, and enhanced working memory in particular.
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that promotes healthy brain chemistry and supports peak mental performance under stressful conditions. For example, consider learning a new language and then being thrust into a situation where you must speak that language as a beginner. Tyrosine may help you to process language in such pressure-filled scenarios.
Mind Lab Pro® nootropics for language support the brain plasticity, memory storage, recall and critical thinking that contribute to linguistic skills.
- Mind Lab Pro® is the Universal Nootropic™ that protects overall brain health and targets language-specific brain centers so you can communicate better and process incoming information more efficiently.
Whether you are a college student studying French, an IT professional trying to make your code more elegant, or a retiree learning a new musical instrument for fun, proficiency in language can help you to succeed more readily and be your best self.
The right nootropics for language can help with any of these pursuits in many ways -- supporting plasticity, memory, recall, learning, mental processing and more to help you communicate clearly and effectively in any language.
- Majid, A., Bowerman, M., Kita, S., Haun, D. B. M., & Levinson, S. C. (2004). Can language restructure cognition? The case for space. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8(3), 108-114. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.01.003.
- Plaza M, Gatignol P, Leroy M, Duffau H. Speaking without Broca's area after tumor resection. Neurocase. 2009 Aug;15(4):294-310. doi: 10.1080/13554790902729473.
- Boroditsky, L. "How Languages Construct Time. In Dehaene and Brannon" (Eds.,) Space, time and number in the brain: Searching for the foundations of mathematical thought. 2011. Elsevier. ISBN: 978-0-12-385948-8
- Guillaume Thierry, Panos Athanasopoulos, Alison Wiggett, Benjamin Dering and Jan-Rouke Kuipers. "Unconscious effects of language-specific terminology on preattentive color perception." PNAS March 17, 2009. 106 (11) 4567-4570.
- Frank MC, Everett DL, Fedorenko E, Gibson E. Number as a cognitive technology: evidence from Pirahã language and cognition. Cognition. 2008 Sep;108(3):819-24. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.04.007
- Boroditsky, L., Schmidt, L., & Phillips, W. "Sex, Syntax, and Semantics." In Gentner & Goldin-Meadow (Eds.,) Language in Mind: Advances in the study of Language and Cognition. 2003.
- Fausey, C., Long, B., Inamori, A., & Boroditsky, L. "Constructing agency: the role of language. Frontiers in Psychology." 2010. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00162
- Fauble L. Music Therapy: Understanding the Science of Sound. It's the Write Way. 2016. ASIN: B01FXDDZL4
- Campbell R, et al. Sign Language And The Brain: A Review. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Volume 13, Issue 1, 1 January 2008, Pages 3–20. doi: 10.1093/deafed/enm035
- Poly C, et al. The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Dec; 94(6): 1584–1591. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.008938
- Glade MJ, Smith K. Phosphatidylserine and the human brain. Nutrition. 2015 Jun;31(6):781-6. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2014.10.014.
- Roodenrys S, et al. Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa Monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002 Aug;27(2):279-81.
- Ferreira GK, et al. l-Tyrosine administration increases acetylcholinesterase activity in rats. Neurochemistry International Volume 61, Issue 8, December 2012, Pages 1370-1374. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2012.09.017