It’s often assumed that there is a ‘window’ for being able to learn a language to native-like fluency that closes after childhood and early adolescence. However, an increasing amount of research suggests that in fact people are able to attain native-like proficiency in a second language even when they start learning later in life. In this blog entry on the medicalxpress website, Christine Metz Howard looks at recent brain scanning research carried out at the University of Kansas, showing that not only can learners attain a very high degree of proficiency in a second language, but that their brains are able to adjust to process the language in the same way as native speakers. With an array of electrodes placed on their scalps to detect patterns of brain activity, test groups of native Spanish speakers and non-native speakers who started learning after age 11 were asked to read Spanish sentences, some of which had grammatical errors in either number agreement or gender agreement. Comparing the results, researchers found that the highly proficient second-language speakers showed the same patterns of brain activity as native speakers when processing grammatical violations in sentences. This research illustrates the amazing plasticity of the human brain, and shows that even people who begin learning a second language after childhood can not only learn to speak, read and write like a native speaker, but think like them too.