LEARNING languages when you’re a child is seen as key to developing young brains and making it easier to learn when older.

Now research suggests watching and trying dance could be just as important to promoting how we deal with language.

The study found the same brain areas activate when somebody is processing the meaning of a sentence as when watching a series of dance movements. The more coherent a sequence of words or dance motions, the more activity measured in the frontal areas of the brain.

A three-second clip of human motion, for example, doesn’t have the same effect as 20 minutes, just as a couple individual words don’t show the same results as a full and meaningful sentence.

Researchers from the University of Abertay and French National Institute of Health and Medical Research used 22 professional French dancers watching different lengths of contemporary dance movements while observing brain activity with an MRI scanner.

Co-author Dr Corinne Jola, from Abertay, said combined with her previous findings, there is evidence non-dancers show more activity in areas of the brain known for action and language understanding. But the dance would require more structure to show all the benefits for a non-expert.

“Dance engages many more processes than you might think of,” she said. “And some of them are very high level cognitive, which are important in every day life in interacting with other people. So watching dance can really train your understand of social situations.

“We can identify that this area that is relevant for understanding language is also relevant when you use dance stimuli. For that particular brain area it's not relevant whether it's words or whether it's dance.

“And that's very interesting, thinking of if you want to develop language understanding in schools. It's normally language classes. Language and mathematics are really important in the curriculum and dance and art are much less. But by showing that this particular brain area actually deals not just with language but also with dance, then you could say that dance training could also improve the functional processes of this area.”

Dr Jola said it is a challenge to study the effects of dance on the brain because most people would watch a performance and experience lighting, music and other factors. She has previously studied how ballet fans “feel” the movements they watch on stage.

She said: “What I found in another study where we compared ballet with Indian dance and an acting sequence I really felt that every dance style has very particular ways, like language, it's relational.

“It links to the culture and development and each dance style could be seen as its own language and has developed its own grammatical rules, so to speak. My experience is the more different languages you learn and get confronted with, the more you understand what is language. If you are confronted with something new, you have many more resources to deal with it.”

It has only been possible to measure brain activity non-invasively during a live performance in the past few years. And as well as supporting new approaches in the classroom, the research could have implications for rehabilitation.

The paper is published in the journal NeuroImage and Dr Jola will be speaking in Dundee in February about “Dancers Brain”.

Catherine Cassidy, Scottish Ballet associate director for education, said: “We are delighted that research has found yet another benefit to watching or participating in dance, and hope this encourages people from all backgrounds and all ages as well as schools and universities to further engage with this wonderful art form.

"At Scottish Ballet, we witness every day the joy that dance can bring to audiences and participants. It is great to know that their involvement with us also benefits their brain, their social skills and improves language processes.”

Scotland's largest council, Glasgow, which includes the local authority-run Dance School of Scotland at Knightswood Secondary, said they would consider the research.

A spokeswoman said: “Glasgow is always looking at innovative ways in which to raise attainment and give our young people the best possible education. New research is constantly monitored to see if our young people can benefit.”