While most people speak only one language or perhaps two, some are proficient in many. These people are called polyglots. And they are helping to provide insight into how the brain deals with language, the principal method of human communication.

In a new study involving a group of polyglots, the brain activity of the participants was monitored using a method called functional magnetic resonance imaging as they listened to passages read in various languages.

With one intriguing exception, activity increased in the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in the brain's language-processing network when these polyglots — who spoke between five and 54 languages — heard languages in which they were the most proficient compared with ones of lesser or no proficiency.