Languages in the News

The Sooner You Expose A Baby To A Second Language, The Smarter They’ll Be
April 8, 2016  by

A new study shows that babies raised in bilingual environments develop core cognitive skills like decision-making and problem-solving -- before they even speak.
The study, out of the University of Washington, tested 16 babies. Half came from English-speaking households and half came from English- and Spanish-speaking households. The babies listen to a variety of speech sounds, from preverbal to English- and Spanish-specific sounds. Researchers monitored the babies’ responses to the sounds using magnetoencephalography (MEG), which helped them clearly identify which parts of the brain were activated via electromagnetic activity. You will never see a more cuddly scientific setup:
The babies from English- and Spanish-speaking households had lots of activity in the prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex -- the regions of the brain responsible for executive functions, like decision-making and problem-solving.  “Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practice at tasks related to executive function,” said lead author Naja Ferjan Ramírez in a press release. "Babies raised listening to two languages seem to stay 'open' to the sounds of novel languages longer than their monolingual peers, which is a good and highly adaptive thing for their brains to do," co-author Patricia Kuhl said in the same release.
That adaptive mechanism reaps enormous benefits for both babies and adults. Many studies, like this one out of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, have shown that bilingual adults have better executive brain functions than adults who only speak one language. That means bilingual adults are better able to switch focus between tasks, recall memories, and demonstrate higher-level problem-solving and planning skills. Bilingual kids demonstrate those skills, too. Plus, all of those executive brain functions are key to success in school, and academic success is a big indicator of long-term happiness. Learning another language can even help prevent or delay the onset of degenerative brain diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s for older adults.
Basically, there is no downside to being bilingual -- and the best time to start is early. “Our results underscore the notion that not only are very young children capable of learning multiple languages, but that early childhood is the optimum time for them to begin,” Ferjan Ramírez concluded. Neuroscientist Sam Wang agrees with her:
The best part is that you can raise a bilingual child -- even if you’re not bilingual. Here are some tips from the Linguistic Society:
If you’re already bilingual, or part of a bilingual household, then try the “one parent, one language” method. Basically, clarify which parent speaks which language to the baby. That way, everyone knows what to expect - and your baby knows how to respond. 
If you aren’t already bilingual, that’s okay! You can still expose your child to different languages. Lots of foreign words make their way into English. You can point out foreign foods every time you have them, or watch a bilingual show with your child. As long as you expose them to the foreign words in a consistent way with the same context, they’ll reap the benefits.
Try using a Language Exchange community, where you and your child can speak another language with native speakers together. You’ll both reap the benefits with constant practice.
Now get out there and reap those cognitive benefits!


Does Language Affect The Way We Think? Here’s Proof!

By April Buchanan. bilingual, english, language, native speakers, second language, Whorf

Have you ever heard anyone say that Eskimos have over a hundred words to describe snow? Or that speakers of languages without a future tense are generally happier? What about languages that don’t have numbers for counting large quantities? These are common stories we hear about differences between speakers of different languages.
There is a huge amount of research that has been done about the link between language and psychology or behavior. The subject became popular in the early 20th century when a linguist named Whorf presented his hypothesis that speakers of different languages are cognitively different—they literally process thoughts differently as a result of their respective language’s limitations, or lack thereof.
That idea was widely accepted at the time, but has proven to be only partially true. However, with so many interesting research done on the topic, it is worth considering a few of the more interesting studies.
For example, an article in Scientific American describes a study done with the Piraha tribe in the Amazon who have no number words at all! According to the study, they have only three words for numbers: “around 1″, “some,” and “many.” Can you imagine a world in which we have no numbers to budget our economy and count money? It turns out not having words for numbers doesn’t affect their ability to conceive of different amounts of things, but only their ability to remember specific amounts.
Another article describes a study that showed how, for biligual speakers, the language you speak can determine your world view or your prejudices. The study, involving Arab and Hebrew bilingual speakers,  showed that when speaking Arab, the participants linked certain names with a negative feeling, and when speaking Hebrew they didn’t.
The same article brings up the old myth about languages that don’t have any future tense. A study at Yale University showed that those who speak languages without a future tense, like Mandarin Chinese for example, tend to see their lives as a whole (picture a circle), as opposed to seeing it as a timeline. In this way, they tend not to waste money on unnecesary things, take better care of themselves, and live longer. Compared to languages with multiple future tenses, like English, there is a somewhat different life experience which is taking place on a linear axis, in which, as the author cleverly points out, “the past is something we’ve left behind, and the future is like a distant planet where consequences live that we don’t fully intend to visit.” Now there’s some food for thought!
And what about the study between language and navigation skills, brought up in one of the most famous articles on the topic, written by Lera Boroditzsky. She points out that for native speakers in a remote Aboriginal tribe that she studied, there is no word for “right” and “left”, but rather the speaker must always use a specific direction such as “southwest” or “northeast”. As a result, they possessed excellent navigational skills, always knowing which direction they were heading. Talk about having an inner compass!
So does the language we speak really determine the way we think? Or just the way we communicate? The important thing is to focus on our similarities, and enjoy our differences. That is part of the richness of learning another language after all, as you experience new ways of saying things, to also acquire a new way to see things. And that’s a good thing!

(In French) Parler une deuxième langue changerait notre perception du monde
Par Lise Loumé. From
Publié le 23-03-2015
Être bilingue permet d'avoir une pensée plus flexible et influence ainsi notre manière de percevoir le monde, selon une nouvelle étude.
Depuis les années 1940, les chercheurs en sciences cognitives tentent de déterminer de quelle manière notre langue maternelle peut influencer notre vision du monde.
BILINGUES. Les germanophones se concentrent davantage sur l'endroit où une personne se rend, et les anglophones sur son trajet. Et ainsi, les bilingues maîtrisant à la fois les langues anglaise et allemande, peuvent choisir l'une de ces deux stratégies, suivant la situation. Telles sont les conclusions d'une nouvelle étude parue dans la revue Psychological Science.
Notre langue maternelle peut influencer notre vision du monde
Depuis les années 1940, les chercheurs en sciences cognitives tentent de déterminer de quelle manière notre langue maternelle peut influencer notre vision du monde, explique la revue Science. Selon une étude parue dans PNAS en 2007, les russophones sont plus rapides pour distinguer les nuances de bleu que les anglophones. De même que les personnes parlant japonais ont tendance à regrouper des objets selon leur type de matériau, alors que celles parlant coréen rassemblent en priorité ceux qui s'emboîtent entre eux. Mais qu'en est-il des personnes bilingues ?
Pour le savoir, une équipe britannique a réalisé une étude sur 30 personnes dont la langue maternelle était soit l'anglais, soit l'allemand, et 30 bilingues (parlant à la fois anglais et allemand). "Plutôt que de se demander si deux personnes parlant des langues maternelles différentes avaient deux manières de "percevoir le monde", nous nous sommes demandés si deux manières de "percevoir le monde" différentes pouvaient co-exister au sein d'une seule et même personne", explique le psycholinguiste Panos Athanasopoulos de l'Université de Lancaster au Royaume-Uni.
GRAMMAIRE. Ils se sont en particulier intéressés à une différence notable entre l'anglais et l'allemand dans la description des événements. La langue anglaise possède des outils grammaticaux permettant de situer des actions dans le temps : "I was sailing to Bermuda and I saw Elvis" (que l'on peut traduire en français par : "j'étais en train de naviguer aux Bermudes lorsque j'aperçus Elvis") est différent de "I sailed to Bermuda and I saw Elvis" ("Je naviguais aux Bermudes lorsque j'aperçus Elvis"). Or la langue allemande ne permet pas cette nuance. En conséquence, les germanophones ont tendance à spécifier le début, le milieu et la fin d'un événement, alors que les anglophones se concentrent davantage sur l'action elle-même. En regardant la même scène, par exemple, les germanophones pourraient dire : "un homme quitte la maison et se dirige vers la boutique". Alors qu'un anglophone dirait simplement : "un homme marche"
Or cette différence linguistique influence la manière dont les locuteurs des deux langues voient les événements, expliquent les chercheurs. Pour parvenir à cette conclusion, ils ont demandé aux 60 participants de l'étude de regarder une série de clips vidéo montrant des personnes marcher, faire du vélo, courir, ou encore conduire. Dans chaque série, les chercheurs ont demandé aux sujets de juger si une scène comportant un objectif "indirect" (par exemple, une femme descend une route pour ensuite aller vers une voiture garée) était similaire à une autre, objectif pouvant simplement se résumer (une femme entre dans un bâtiment). Résultat : les germanophones ont associé une scène à l'objectif "indirect", à une scène pouvant simplement se résumer dans 40 % des cas en moyenne, contre 25 % des anglophones. Cette différence met en évidence le fait que les germanophones se concentrent davantage sur le résultat d'une ou plusieurs actions, et les anglophones accordent plus d'attention à l'action elle-même.
Quant aux bilingues (qui ont écouté les vidéos en deux langues), ces derniers semblent basculer d'un point de vue à l'autre, en fonction du lieu où ils se trouvent. En effet, les 15 Allemands parlant couramment l'anglais se comportaient de la même manière que leurs compatriotes dans leur pays d'origine. Mais ce même groupe a agi comme les Anglais lorsque l'exercice était effectué... au Royaume-Uni. Un effet simplement culturel ? Pour le vérifier, les chercheurs ont réalisé cette même expérience sur un autre groupe de 30 personnes bilingues allemand-anglais. À la différence près que les vidéos passaient d'une langue à l'autre.
VERDICT. Lorsque les participants bilingues entendaient la langue anglaise, ils réalisaient l'exercice comme la plupart des Anglais, et vice versa. Ces résultats suggèrent ainsi que la seconde langue parlée par une personne bilingue peut jouer un rôle important dans l'élaboration de la perception inconsciente, concluent les chercheurs. Selon eux, leur conclusion pourrait être valable pour l'ensemble des bilingues (et pas seulement ceux parlant l'anglais et l'allemand). "En parlant une autre langue, vous avez une vision alternative du monde, explique Panos Athanasopoulos. Vous pouvez écouter de la musique d'un seul haut-parleur, ou en stéréo... C'est la même chose avec la langue."

Why Playful Learning Is The Key To Prosperity

By John Converse Townsend. 4/10/2014

In order for our global society to develop solutions to pressing problems in an increasingly technology-driven and constantly changing world, we need to re-train our workforce to do what machines can’t: to be enterprising, independent and strategic thinkers—to be purposeful creators.

This starts with changing the way students, especially the youngest ones, learn.

They’re the future, after all, and they have a serious evolutionary need for play, as described in Scientific American:

“In a classic study published in Developmental Psychology in 1973, researchers divided 90 preschool children into three groups. One group was told to play freely with four common objects—among the choices were a pile of paper towels, a screwdriver, a wooden board and a pile of paper clips. A second set was asked to imitate an experimenter using the four objects in common ways. The last group was told to sit at a table and draw whatever they wanted, without ever seeing the objects.

“Each scenario lasted 10 minutes. Immediately afterward, the researchers asked the children to come up with ideas for how one of the objects could be used. The kids who had played with the objects named, on average, three times as many nonstandard, creative uses for the objects than the youths in either of the other two groups did, suggesting that play fosters creative thinking.”

Learning through play with “hands-on, minds-on” approaches (not workbooks) is a powerful way forward. Play gives children space to dream, discover, improvise, and challenge convention. It’s crucial to social, emotional, cognitive and even physical development, helping them grow up “better adjusted, smarter and less stressed.” We know this.

So, where did play go?

Over the last three decades, while schoolchildren K-12 have become better test-takers, they’ve also become less imaginative, according to many experts in education, including Kyung Hee Kim, a professor of education at the College of William and Mary. In 2011, she analyzed scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and found that: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

“The largest drop,” as author Hanna Rosin points out in The Atlantic, “has been in the measure of ‘elaboration,’ or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way.”

In other words, we’re in the midst of a creativity crisis. In an age where we’re desperate for new answers to old questions, and for children to more readily step into leadership roles as innovators, this is a problem.

The good news: There are high-impact innovators who are dedicated to bringing back play in a big way. They’re rethinking the process of learning, inspiring children and allowing for constructive and productive disobedience. (Mistakes, too.)

“Play is not a luxury,” says Johann Olav Koss. He’s on a mission to use sport and play to educate and empower children and youngsters in disadvantaged communities so they overcome the damaging effects of poverty, conflict, and disease. Koss, a Norwegian speed skater who broke ten world records during his career, serves as president and CEO of the international NGO Right to Play.

Koss, his staff, and 13,500 volunteer coaches reach more than one million children each week. They use games and active, play-based learning methods as tools for education and development. Soccer, for example, is used to teach tolerance and games of tag drive home points about disease prevention, immunization, or national health issues.

“Every child has the right to play, not only because it is fun, but because it is critical to their education and healthy development,” he said, after receiving last year’s LEGO Prize, awarded by the LEGO Foundation (dedicated to redefining play and re-imagining learning to build a future driven by creative, engaged, lifelong learners) to individuals that have made an extraordinary contribution on behalf of children and young people.

The American Academy of Pediatrics would agree with Koss. Last year, they concluded that play, whether organized indoors or outdoors, “is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.”

That increasingly obvious truth is also why Jill Vialet, the founder and CEO of Playworks, has been working to reintroduce play to a U.S. education system in which nearly half of schools have reduced or eliminated recess to free up more time for core academics, where one in four elementary schools no longer provide recess to all grades, and where more than three-quarters of principals actually take away recess as part of their discipline plan.

“If we want to bring out the best in our kids,” she says, “we should start by giving them a great recess.”

Playworks works. It has positive impact on the “climate” in schools, making for a better and more productive school day, according to experts at Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.

They found that Playworks, currently operating in 500 schools in 22 U.S. cities, improves conflict resolution and academic performance, and it reduces aggression: teachers in the test group reported increased feelings of safety, and reports of bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess were almost halved.

Vialet plans to reach one million students by 2016.

The world we live in is no longer ordered by industrial efficiency or repetition, but the exact opposite: unpredictability. But we still educate for factories—“educating people out of their creativity,” as Sir Ken Robinson would say—while today’s employers demand “changemaking” skills that include communication, teamwork, empathy, critical thinking, and imaginative problem-solving.

If we want a better, smarter planet, we need to change the way the next generation of children are taught. Allowing more students to grow up without those prosocial, exploratory skills, leaving them unable to reach their potential, would be criminal.

Play can deliver.

What are we waiting for?


Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results


The Saturday Essay. Sept 27th, 2013

I had a teacher once who called his students "idiots" when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn't explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.

We're in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K's methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It's time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works.

Now I'm not calling for abuse; I'd be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names. But the latest evidence backs up my modest proposal. Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids' self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as "drill and kill"—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. And the following eight principles—a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research—explain why.

1. A little pain is good for you.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson gained fame for his research showing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice, a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers." But an often-overlooked finding from the same study is equally important: True expertise requires teachers who give "constructive, even painful, feedback," as Dr. Ericsson put it in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. He assessed research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess. And he found that all of them "deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance."

2. Drill, baby, drill.

Rote learning, long discredited, is now recognized as one reason that children whose families come from India (where memorization is still prized) are creaming their peers in the National Spelling Bee Championship. This cultural difference also helps to explain why students in China (and Chinese families in the U.S.) are better at math. Meanwhile, American students struggle with complex math problems because, as research makes abundantly clear, they lack fluency in basic addition and subtraction—and few of them were made to memorize their times tables.

William Klemm of Texas A&M University argues that the U.S. needs to reverse the bias against memorization. Even the U.S. Department of Education raised alarm bells, chastising American schools in a 2008 report that bemoaned the lack of math fluency (a notion it mentioned no fewer than 17 times). It concluded that schools need to embrace the dreaded "drill and practice."

3. Failure is an option.

Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better. In a 2012 study, 111 French sixth-graders were given anagram problems that were too difficult for them to solve. One group was then told that failure and trying again are part of the learning process. On subsequent tests, those children consistently outperformed their peers.

The fear, of course is that failure will traumatize our kids, sapping them of self-esteem. Wrong again. In a 2006 study, a Bowling Green State University graduate student followed 31 Ohio band students who were required to audition for placement and found that even students who placed lowest "did not decrease in their motivation and self-esteem in the long term." The study concluded that educators need "not be as concerned about the negative effects" of picking winners and losers.

4. Strict is better than nice.

What makes a teacher successful? To find out, starting in 2005 a team of researchers led by Claremont Graduate University education professor Mary Poplin spent five years observing 31 of the most highly effective teachers (measured by student test scores) in the worst schools of Los Angeles, in neighborhoods like South Central and Watts. Their No. 1 finding: "They were strict," she says. "None of us expected that."

The researchers had assumed that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion. Instead, they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. "The core belief of these teachers was, 'Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it's my job to do something about it—and I can do something about it,'" says Prof. Poplin.

She reported her findings in a lengthy academic paper. But she says that a fourth-grader summarized her conclusions much more succinctly this way: "When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teachers coddled me. When I got to Mrs. T's room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she's right. I need to work harder."

5. Creativity can be learned.

The rap on traditional education is that it kills children's' creativity. But Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg's research suggests just the opposite. Prof. Weisberg has studied creative geniuses including Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Picasso—and has concluded that there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.

Prof. Weisberg analyzed Picasso's 1937 masterpiece Guernica, for instance, which was painted after the Spanish city was bombed by the Germans. The painting is considered a fresh and original concept, but Prof. Weisberg found instead that it was closely related to several of Picasso's earlier works and drew upon his study of paintings by Goya and then-prevalent Communist Party imagery. The bottom line, Prof. Weisberg told me, is that creativity goes back in many ways to the basics. "You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline. It is built on a foundation of learning the discipline, which is what your music teacher was requiring of you."

6. Grit trumps talent.

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has studied spelling bee champs, Ivy League undergrads and cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.—all together, over 2,800 subjects. In all of them, she found that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent.

Prof. Duckworth, who started her career as a public school math teacher and just won a 2013 MacArthur "genius grant," developed a "Grit Scale" that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like "I finish whatever I begin" and "I become interested in new pursuits every few months." When she applied the scale to incoming West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher were less likely to drop out of the school's notoriously brutal summer boot camp known as "Beast Barracks." West Point's own measure—an index that includes SAT scores, class rank, leadership and physical aptitude—wasn't able to predict retention.

Prof. Duckworth believes that grit can be taught. One surprisingly simple factor, she says, is optimism—the belief among both teachers and students that they have the ability to change and thus to improve. In a 2009 study of newly minted teachers, she rated each for optimism (as measured by a questionnaire) before the school year began. At the end of the year, the students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains.

7. Praise makes you weak…

My old teacher Mr. K seldom praised us. His highest compliment was "not bad." It turns out he was onto something. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being "smart" became less confident. But kids told that they were "hard workers" became more confident and better performers.

"The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash," wrote Prof. Dweck in a 2007 article in the journal Educational Leadership. "If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not."

8.…while stress makes you strong.

A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience. Psychology professor Mark D. Seery gave healthy undergraduates a stress assessment based on their exposure to 37 different kinds of significant negative events, such as death or illness of a family member. Then he plunged their hands into ice water. The students who had experienced a moderate number of stressful events actually felt less pain than those who had experienced no stress at all.

"Having this history of dealing with these negative things leads people to be more likely to have a propensity for general resilience," Prof. Seery told me. "They are better equipped to deal with even mundane, everyday stressors."

Prof. Seery's findings build on research by University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier, who pioneered the concept of "toughness"—the idea that dealing with even routine stresses makes you stronger. How would you define routine stresses? "Mundane things, like having a hardass kind of teacher," Prof. Seery says.

My tough old teacher Mr. K could have written the book on any one of these principles. Admittedly, individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students' ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.

Decades later, Mr. K's former students finally figured it out, too. "He taught us discipline," explained a violinist who went on to become an Ivy League-trained doctor. "Self-motivation," added a tech executive who once played the cello. "Resilience," said a professional cellist. "He taught us how to fail—and how to pick ourselves up again."

Clearly, Mr. K's methods aren't for everyone. But you can't argue with his results. And that's a lesson we can all learn from.

Ms. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of "Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations," to be published by Hyperion on Oct. 1. She is a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and former editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Portfolio.


New Study Shows Brain Benefits Of Bilingualism

posted Nov 17, 2013, 12:02 PM by Essia Bernstein

by Barbara J. King.  November 14, 2013.

The largest study so far to ask whether speaking two languages might delay the onset of dementia symptoms in bilingual patients as compared to monolingual patients has reported a robust result. Bilingual patients suffer dementia onset an average of 4.5 years later than those who speak only a single language.

While knowledge of a protective effect of bilingualism , the present study significantly advances scientists' knowledge. emphasize the size of its cohort: 648 patients from a university hospital's memory clinic, including 391 who were bilingual. It's also touted as the first study to reveal that bilingual people who are illiterate derive the same benefit from speaking two languages as do people who read and write. It also claims to show that the benefit applies not only to Alzheimer's sufferers but also people with frontotemporal and vascular dementia.

Only when I read , though, published in the journal Neurology and written by Suvarna Alladi and 7 co-authors, did I realize fully the brilliance of conducting this study in .

That choice of location, I believe, lends extra credibility to the study's results.

Here's why. India, as the researchers note, is a nation of linguistic diversity. In the Hyderabad region, a language called Telugu is spoken by the majority Hindu group, and another called Dakkhini by the minority Muslim population. Hindi and English are also commonly spoken in formal contexts, including at school. Most people who grow up in the region, then, are bilingual, and routinely exposed to at least three languages.

The patients who contributed data to the study, then, are surrounded by multiple languages in everyday life, not primarily as a result of moving from one location to another. This turns out to be an important factor, as the authors explain:

In contrast to previous studies, the bilingual group was drawn from the same environment as the monolingual one and the results were therefore free from the confounding effects of immigration. The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors, such as education, sex, occupation, cardiovascular risk factors, and urban vs rural dwelling, of subjects with dementia.

In other words, thanks in large part to the study's cultural context, these researchers made great progress zeroing in on bilingualism as the specific reason for the delay in dementia symptoms.

What exactly is it about the ability to speak in two languages that seems to provide this protective effect? Alladi and co-authors explain:

The constant need in a bilingual person to selectively activate one language and suppress the other is thought to lead to a better development of executive functions and attentional tasks with cognitive advantages being best documented in attentional control, inhibition, and conflict resolution.

Intriguingly, when a patient speaks three (or more) languages, no extra benefits accrue neurologically. Speaking a single language beyond one's native tongue is enough to do the trick.

So, now, my almost-monolingual brain is jealous.

I do know some conversational French, and I squeaked by speaking and comprehending enough Swahili to be polite and interactive while living in Kenya. But I've regretted not working up to full fluency in a second language. (As the "Learn to Speak Italian" tapes strewn around my house demonstrate, I haven't given up on this goal.)

The sounds of multiple languages swirling around me when I visit or are enchanting, and I enjoy discussing with bilinguals the claims that switching between languages allows within a single individual.

Being bilingual opens up new worlds of global connection and understanding, and almost certainly allows some degree of flexibility in personal expression, too.

Now we know, more concretely and convincingly than before, that there's a brain benefit to bilingualism, too.

From: NPR. Science section

Bringing languages to life in the classroom

posted Jan 24, 2013, 12:28 AM by Essia Bernstein

The uptake of modern foreign languages in UK schools is continuing to decline, yet in an increasingly multicultural society and global marketplace the skills developed through language learning are more important for young people than ever. So how can language teachers get young people engaged in languages again?

One of the main barriers for pupils choosing their subject options is a question of relevance. How does learning French/German/Spanish relate to their lives and how will it benefit them as individuals? This relevance will be different for each individual and for each class but it is important that all language teachers acknowledge this barrier and that they can work within the confines of the curriculum to enhance the relevance for their class.

For pupils to successfully learn a language, they need to have self-motivation and they need to be engaged in what they are learning. This is difficult to achieve through a focus on the practical aspects of language learning of vocabulary and grammar, so language classes in school need to take a broader approach looking at the context in which a language has developed and is used.

Looking at different cultures is a great way of introducing this wider context into a language lesson but also has wider benefits of broadening young people's horizons and introducing them to other ways of living. Learning about, sharing and accepting other cultures in a language lesson breaks down barriers between different cultures even beyond English cultures and that of the target language.

Many schools now have increasingly multicultural student bodies. When looking at the culture of the target language, compare their traditions to those of the UK and the cultures from which other class members may originate. Start by comparing the main festivals and holidays that all young people will be familiar with like Christmas, Eid, Hanukkah, New Year and Easter. Get the class involved, asking questions and conducting independent research to explore other cultures. They can then present their findings back to the class using the target language wherever possible.

Taking this approach to language learning also opens up the opportunities for using real artefacts as first hand resources. Language text-books focus on the tools needed to learn the practicalities of a language and to introduce the information and skills needed to pass the exam. Access to real world resources - whether it is traditional foods from the supermarket, musical instruments, CDs, films, newspapers or online sources - can really complement the information within text-books providing up-to-date and relevant context to the language.

It is also important to look at how language is actually used by people to communicate. Having a knowledge of vocabulary and grammar is good, but this is not always enough to effectively communicate the right message. Using online translation tools will instantly demonstrate that you cannot always literally translate text, instead the words need to be read in the context of the whole sentence or paragraph. Similarly, in conversing with people, language is used in different ways depending on the setting. For example in the workplace language is more formal but with friends there will be more colloquialisms and less-formal use of language. Young people can start to get an understanding of this by looking at how the language is actually used, not just how it is used in a text-book.

Learning a language is easier the earlier you begin. There has been much debate about the role of languages in primary schools and this is still continuing. Where most young people start to learn a language is in secondary school. Not only is it harder to get into the new language, it is at this time where teenagers start to become more self-conscious, unsure of speaking up in class for fear of sounding silly or making a mistake. Teachers should encourage risk-taking in the classroom, encouraging children to just get involved and give it a go. Try sharing some of the mistakes you made when you were learning the language and demonstrate how you learnt from it and improved your language skills to give reassurance.

A good language lesson should have a balance of each of the four aspects of language learning - reading, writing, speaking and listening. As with all subjects teachers should take into consideration different learning styles. Some students may be really shy about getting involved in speaking activities whilst others may struggle with quiet reading exercises. Ensuring that each lesson covers each of the four bases will help to meet the needs of all learners in the class.

• John Tanner is head of Languages at Southbank International School. He wrote this blog with the help of his colleagues Maria Donovan, Fabienne Fontaine and Gabriela Hudson. Southbank International School is an IB school based in London. With approximately 70 different nationalities, language learning and development is a core focus throughout the school.

From The Teacher Network:

Second-Language Learning

posted Jan 23, 2013, 11:50 AM by Essia Bernstein

By Carla Thomas McCiure, District Administration, Jan 2013

While education research has long suggested that studying second languages in K12 schools boosts student achievement in other content areas, the current testing emphases on mathematics and reading has placed foreign language instruction relatively low on district priority lists. However, a growing body of research indicates that second-language learning should be bumped up significantly, as demonstrated particularly in the following areas.

Potential Benefits

Cognitive ability. Numerous studies document a positive relationship between early second language learning and improved mental processes, including conceptual learning (Archibald, 2006; Robinson, 1998). For example, a recent experiment with 104 six-year-olds found those who spoke two languages were better at switching from one task to another, an indicator of their ability to manage attention (Barac & Bialystok, 2012).

Achievement gains.Dumas (1999) examined the test scores of 13,200 third- and fifth-grade students in Louisiana and found that those studying a foreign language performed better on the state assessment in English than those not enrolled in a foreign language class, regardless of race, gender, and overall academic performance. Curtain and Dahlberg (2004) noted in other studies that learning a second language seems especially beneficial to the academic achievement of children from minority and low-income families.

College and career readiness. One in four institutions of higher education requires applicants to study a foreign language to gain admission, and one in two requires students to fulfill a language requirement during college to receive an undergraduate degree (Lusin, 2012).

Program Implementation

Research and data indicate that implementing a foreign language program that contributes to such improvements in students’ achievement and preparedness will require schools and districts to do the following:

Establish a sequenced instructional program. The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) recommends sequenced preK-to-college programs of sufficient strength to help students become highly proficient in a second language.

Start early. Children who receive second-language instruction before middle school are more likely to speak the language fluently. Further, young children who master a second language seem more able than monolinguals to master additional languages later in life. A study of 60 lifelong bilinguals at age 20 showed they learned twice as many words in an invented language than other 20-year-olds who spoke only one language (Kaushanskaya & Kaushanskaya, 2009). Children develop more positive attitudes toward the target language, speakers, and culture if they are exposed to the language by age 10. (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2004).

Provide time for instruction. Students who receive as little as 15 minutes of foreign language instruction daily can make significant progress if instruction is motivating, appropriately challenging, and allows for creative use of the language, according to a research review conducted by Archibald and colleagues (2006). However, the researchers cautioned school administrators in Alberta, Canada, to be realistic about what to expect from offering 95 hours of instruction per year for six years, saying it would not yield “functional bilingualism and fluency in the second language.”

Offer professional development. Because hiring highly qualified foreign language teachers is a challenge, ongoing professional development is especially important. Foreign language teachers need to be up-to-date on emerging instructional methods, and language drills. The movement is toward providing comprehensible input, using the language as a vehicle to teach academic content, and engaging students in authentic tasks. A comprehensible input-based method that has produced superior results, when well executed, is Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (Roof & Kreutter, 2010).

Use technology wisely. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL, 2012) reports that computer-based programs are increasingly used by qualified teachers to supplement and/or differentiate instruction, provide practice, and connect students to native speakers of the target language.

Learning from Other Countries

According to a 2005 Senate Resolution, fewer than 1 in 10 U.S. adults are fluent in a second language, compared to more than half of the adults in Europe. Only 7 percent of U.S. adults attribute their second-language proficiency to schooling, according to the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey (2011). In 2000, the Center for Applied Linguistics studied 19 countries where second-language programs are the norm. Common features were: a coherent framework, strong leadership, designation of foreign language as a core subject, rigorous teacher education, use of the target language(s) to teach content, creative use of technology, and support for heritage languages (Christian, Pufahl, & Rhodes, 2005). DAPo


Babies Learn Language Basics While Still in Womb

posted Jan 23, 2013, 11:44 AM by Essia Bernstein

by Amber Moore | Jan 02, 2013

A new study shows that children begin learning vowels in their native language while still in the womb.

Babies learn language while still in the womb, a new study has found. Although, previous research said that babies are ready to start learning language by their first month, the new study shows that children begin learning vowels in their native language while still in the womb.

The new study by Christine Moon, a professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University and colleagues shows that babies, only few hours old, show an interest in foreign words.

Brain and sensory mechanisms needed for hearing are developed by 30 weeks of gestation. Babies who have ten more weeks to stay in the womb have the ability to differentiate words from the native language (used by the mother).

"The mother has first dibs on influencing the child's brain. The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them," said Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.

The study was conducted in two different locations: Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, WA, and in the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital in Stockholm. Infants heard either English or Swedish vowels.

The study included 40 babies, about 30 hours old. While still in the nursery, the babies listened to vowel sounds in their native tongue and in foreign languages. Researchers assessed babies' interest in sounds by measuring the amount of time babies sucked on a pacifier that was wired into a computer that measured their reaction to sounds.

Babies tend to suck the pacifier longer for unfamiliar voices than for familiar ones. The difference in the sucking duration shows that babies have been listening to native sounds in the womb and are familiar with it, but now are more interested in sounds that are different.

"This is the first study that shows fetuses learn prenatally about the particular speech sounds of a mother's language. This study moves the measurable result of experience with speech sounds from six months of age to before birth," said Moon.

Researchers chose vowel sounds for the study because these are prominent, and the researchers thought that the babies could hear them over other noise.

"This is a stunning finding. We thought infants were 'born learning' but now we know they learn even earlier. They are not phonetically naïve at birth," said Kuhl.

Ten Common Fallacies About Bilingual Education

posted Aug 29, 2012, 9:34 PM by Essia Bernstein

James Crawford

Researchers have made considerable advances in the fields of psycholinguistics, second language acquisition, bilingual pedagogy, and multicultural education. Today, we know a great deal more about the challenges faced by English language learners and about promising strategies for overcoming them. One such strategy, bilingual education, has been the subject of increasing controversy. Although a growing body of research points to the potential benefits, there are a number of commonly held beliefs about bilingual education that run counter to research findings. Based on current research, this digest clarifies some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding language use and bilingual education in the United States.

Fallacy 1: English is losing ground to other languages in the United States.

More world languages are spoken in the United States today than ever before. However, this is a quantitative, not a qualitative change from earlier periods. Concentrations of non-English language speakers were common in the 19th century, as reflected by laws authorizing native language instruction in a dozen states and territories. In big cities as well as rural areas, children attended bilingual and non-English schools, learning in languages as diverse as French, Norwegian, Czech, and Cherokee. In 1900, there were at least 600,000 elementary school children receiving part or all of their instruction in German (Kloss 1998). Yet English survived without any help from government, such as official-language legislation.

Fallacy 2: Newcomers to the United States are learning English more slowly now than in previous generations.

To the contrary, todayÐs immigrants appear to be acquiring English more rapidly than ever before. While the number of minority-language speakers is projected to grow well into the next cen-tury, the number of bilinguals fluent in both English and another language is growing even faster. Between 1980 and 1990, the number of immigrants who spoke non-English languages at home increased by 59%, while the portion of this population that spoke English very well rose by 93% (Waggoner, 1995). In 1990, only 3% of U.S. residents reported speaking English less than well or very well. Only eight tenths of one percent spoke no English at all. About three in four Hispanic immigrants, after 15 years in this country, speak English on a daily basis, while 70% of their children become dominant or monolingual in English (Veltman, 1988).

Fallacy 3: The best way to learn a language is through "total immersion."

There is no credible evidence to support the "time on task" theory of language learningûthe claim that the more children are exposed to English, the more English they will learn. Research shows that what counts is not just the quantity, but the quality of exposure. Second-language input must be comprehensible to promote second-language acquisition (Krashen, 1996). If students are left to sink or swim in mainstream classrooms, with little or no help in understanding their lessons, they won't learn much English. If native-language instruction is used to make lessons meaningful, they will learn more Englishûand more subject matter, too.

Fallacy 4: Children learning English are retained too long in bilingual classrooms, at the expense of English acquisition.

Time spent learning in well designed bilingual programs is learning time well spent. Knowledge and skills acquired in the native languageûliteracy in particularûare "transferable" to the second language. They do not need to be relearned in English (Krashen, 1996; Cummins, 1992). Thus, there is no reason to rush limited-English-proficient (LEP) students into the mainstream before they are ready.

Research over the past two decades has determined that, despite appearances, it takes children a long time to attain full proficiency in a second language. Often, they are quick to learn the conversational English used on the playground, but normally they need several years to acquire the cognitively demanding, decontextualized language used for academic pursuits (Collier & Thomas, 1989).

Bilingual education programs that emphasize a gradual transition to English and offer native-language instruction in declining amounts over time, provide continuity in children's cognitive growth and lay a foundation for academic success in the second language. By contrast, English-only approaches and quick-exit bilingual programs can interrupt that growth at a crucial stage, with negative effects on achievement (Cummins, 1992).

Fallacy 5: School districts provide bilingual instruction in scores of native languages.

Where children speak a number of different languages, rarely are there sufficient numbers of each language group to make bilingual instruction practical for everyone. In any case, the shortage of qualified teachers usually makes it impossible. For example, in 1994 California enrolled recently arrived immigrants from 136 different countries, but bilingual teachers were certified in only 17 languages, 96% of them in Spanish (CDE, 1995).

Fallacy 6: Bilingual education means instruction mainly in students' native languages, with little instruction in English.

Before 1994, the vast majority of U.S. bilingual education programs were designed to encourage an early exit to mainstream English language classrooms, while only a tiny fraction of programs were designed to maintain the native tongues of students.

Today, a majority of bilingual programs continue to deliver a substantial portion of the curriculum in English. According to one study, school districts reported that 28% of LEP elementary school students receive no native-language instruction. Among those who do, about a third receive more than 75% of their instruction in English; a third receive from 40 to 75% in English; and one third of these receive less than 40% in English. Secondary school students are less likely to be instructed in their native language than elementary school students (Hopstock et al. 1993).

Fallacy 7: Bilingual education is far more costly than English language instruction.

All programs serving LEP studentsûregardless of the language of instructionûrequire additional staff training, instructional materials, and administration. So they all cost a little more than regular programs for native English speakers. But in most cases the differential is modest. A study commissioned by the California legislature examined a variety of well implemented program models and found no budgetary advantage for English-only approaches. The incremental cost was about the same each year ($175-$214) for bilingual and English immersion programs, as compared with $1,198 for English as a second language (ESL) "pullout" programs. The reason was simple: the pullout approach requires supplemental teachers, whereas in-class approaches do not (Chambers & Parrish, 1992). Nevertheless, ESL pullout remains the method of choice for many school districts, especially where LEP students are diverse, bilingual teachers are in short supply, or expertise is lacking in bilingual methodologies.

Fallacy 8: Disproportionate dropout rates for Hispanic students demonstrate the failure of bilingual education.

Hispanic dropout rates remain unacceptably high. Research has identified multiple factors associated with this problem, including recent arrival in the United States, family poverty, limited English proficiency, low academic achievement, and being retained in grade (Lockwood, 1996). No credible studies, however, have identified bilingual education among the risk factors, because bilingual programs touch only a small minority of Hispanic children.

Fallacy 9: Research is inconclusive on the benefits of bilingual education.

Some critics argue that the great majority of bilingual program evaluations are so egregiously flawed that their findings are useless. After reviewing 300 such studies, Rossell and Baker (1996) judged only 72 to be methodologically acceptable. Of these, they determined that a mere 22% supported the superiority of transitional programs over English-only instruction in reading, 9% in math, and 7% in language. Moreover, they concluded that "TBE [transitional bilingual education] is never better than structured immersion" in English. In other words, they could find little evidence that bilingual education works.

Close analysis of Rossell and BakerÐs claims reveals some serious flaws of their own. Krashen (1996) questions the rigor of several studies the reviewers included as methodologically acceptableûall unfavorable to bilingual education and many unpublished in the professional literature. Moreover, Rossell and Baker relied heavily on program evaluations from the 1970s, when bilingual pedagogies were considerably less well developed. Compounding these weaknesses is their narrative review technique, which simply counts the votes for or against a program alternativeûa method that leaves considerable room for subjectivity and reviewer bias (Dunkel, 1990). Meta-analysis, a more objective method that weighs numerous variables in each study under review, has yielded more positive findings about bilingual education (Greene, 1998; Willig, 1985).

Most important, Krashen (1996) shows that Rossell and Baker are content to compare programs by the labels they have been given, with little consideration of the actual pedagogies being used. They treat as equivalent all approaches called TBE, even though few program details are available in many of the studies under review. Researchers who take the time to visit real classrooms understand how dangerous such assumptions can be. According to Hopstock et al. (1993), "When actual practices . . . are examined, a bilingual education program might provide more instruction in English than . . . an 'English as a second language' program." Moreover, from a qualitative perspective, programs vary considerably in how (one or both) languages are integrated into the curriculum and into the social context of the school. Finally, simplistic labels are misleading because bilingual and English immersion techniques are not mutually exclusive; several studies have shown that successful programs make extensive use of both (see, e.g., Ramírez et al., 1991).

Even when program descriptions are available, Rossell and Baker sometimes ignore them. For example, they cite a bilingual immersion program in El Paso as a superior English-only (submersion) approach, although it includes 90 minutes of Spanish instruction each day in addition to sheltered English. The researchers also include in their review several studies of French immersion in Canada, which they equate with all-English, structured immersion programs in the United States. As the Canadian program designers have repeatedly stressed, these models are bilingual in both methods and goals, and they serve students with needs that are quite distinct from those of English learners in this country.

Fallacy 10: Language-minority parents do not support bilingual education because they feel it is more important for their children to learn English than to maintain the native language.

Naturally, when pollsters place these goals in opposition, immigrant parents will opt for English by wide margins. Who knows better the need to learn English than those who struggle with language barriers on a daily basis? But the premise of such surveys is false. Truly bilingual programs seek to cultivate proficiency in both tongues, and research has shown that studentsÐ native language can be maintained and developed at no cost to English. When polled on the principles underlying bilingual educationûfor example, that developing literacy in the first language facilitates literacy development in English or that bilingualism offers cognitive and career-related advantagesûa majority of parents are strongly in favor of such approaches (Krashen, 1996).


Spanish for Spanish Speakers: Developing Dual Language Proficiency

posted Aug 29, 2012, 9:29 PM by Essia Bernstein

Joy Kreeft Peyton, Vickie W. Lewelling, & Paula Winke

The increasing number of students who enter U.S. schools from homes where languages other than English are spoken, and the recognition that proficiency in non-English languages is a valuable national resource, have generated interest in the field of heritage language instruction. A heritage language student is "a language student who is raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speaks or at least understands the language, and who is to some degree bilingual in that language and in English" (Valdés, 2001, p. 38).

The fastest growing heritage language population in the United States is Spanish-speaking immigrants and Americans of Hispanic descent whose families came from Central America, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and South America. The inclusion of Spanish-speaking students in foreign language classes places additional demands on teachers, who may be prepared to teach only speakers of English. As a result, a growing number of secondary schools, colleges, and universities in states with large Hispanic populations offer separate Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS) courses or programs tailored to the needs of these students.

The Need for Special Courses

Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, the practice of teaching Spanish to Spanish speakers has achieved wide recognition. During this period, increasing numbers of students from Hispanic backgrounds began enrolling in Spanish courses at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Teachers trained to teach Spanish as a foreign language to English speakers found themselves teaching classes in which an increasing percentage or even a majority of the students were not the traditional foreign language learners that the teachers were trained to teach (Draper & Hicks, 2000). In some cases, the Hispanic students were more fluent in oral Spanish than the teacher was. According to Campbell (1996), the average heritage language student possesses a level of competence in many aspects of his or her ancestral language that far exceeds what typical students in foreign language courses can attain after many years of formal study. However, there is consensus among foreign language teachers that these students need to develop other areas of Spanish language proficiency. For example, many students have an extensive vocabulary in some contexts but a restricted one in others. Many are unfamiliar with the formal grammar of Spanish and do not read or write it. The challenges of teaching Spanish to students who have no experience with the language are clearly different from those involved in helping students develop proficiency in a language in which they already have considerable competence (Bills, 1997).

Student Characteristics

To fully understand the goals and challenges of teaching Spanish to Spanish speakers, it is important to understand the diverse backgrounds of students who participate in Spanish courses and their motivations for studying a language they already know. Students include the following groups:

  • Third- or fourth-generation U.S.-born Hispanic students considered to be receptive bilinguals. These students are English dominant and understand almost all spoken Spanish, but they have limited speaking skills in Spanish and do not read or write it.

  • First- or second-generation bilinguals who possess different degrees of proficiency in English and Spanish. In most cases, these students have received their education in English and have developed few if any literacy skills in Spanish.

  • Recent immigrants to the United States who are Spanish dominant. Their level of English proficiency, the amount of formal education they have had in Spanish, and their literacy skills in Spanish vary (Valdés, 2001).

In all of these groups, language proficiency may vary from individual to individual. Many students are completely fluent in oral Spanish (both speaking and comprehending), others speak and understand Spanish fairly well, while others possess only basic oral skills in Spanish. In addition, students come from a number of cultural backgrounds and speak different varieties of Spanish.

Goals of SNS Instruction

SNS courses offer Spanish-speaking students opportunities to study Spanish formally in an academic setting in the same way that native-English-speaking students study English language arts. Spanish-speaking students participate in SNS courses for a number of reasons. These may include a desire to reactivate the Spanish they have learned in the past and develop it further, to learn more about their language and cultural heritage, to acquire literacy skills in Spanish, to develop or augment academic language skills in Spanish, to enhance career opportunities, or to fulfill a foreign language requirement. The skills that students can acquire range from learning grammar and spelling and developing basic academic vocabulary in Spanish to learning how to critically analyze a text, write poetry, or acquire new information in different academic content areas.

Valdés (1997) delineates the following goals of SNS instruction: Language maintenance. Based on the view that Spanish can be maintained across generations through the formal study of Spanish, this instructional goal focuses on grammar, reading and writing, vocabulary development, exposure to the language and culture of Hispanic communities, and consciousness raising activities about Spanish language and identity.

Expansion of the bilingual range. The language proficiency of many bilingual students is not equally developed in their two languages. For example, they may possess the cultural understanding to comprehend a particular exchange but be unable to express themselves using the appropriate vocabulary and grammar. The goal of expanding the bilingual range moves beyond developing initial expressive and receptive language abilities to cultivating a much broader command of the language.

Acquisition of a prestige variety. Many students who participate in SNS courses speak what may be interpreted as rural or stigmatized varieties of Spanish. Instruction aimed at teaching students the prestige or standard variety involves developing metalinguistic awareness about the differences between the standard and other varieties, teaching traditional grammar, and teaching when it is appropriate to use more or less formal Spanish.

Transfer of literacy skills. According to Cummins (1984), language skills can be transferred across languages in a manner that facilitates the acquisition of first language skills in the second language. Peale (1991) emphasizes the need for Spanish-speaking students to develop not only their oral language but also their literacy skills in Spanish. In the process, they enhance their English literacy development as well.

Evaluating the Goals

Valdés (1997) suggests that the initial goal of SNS instruction was to develop language skills in Spanish speakers that would allow them to participate in advanced placement courses in Spanish, with a strong focus on grammatical correctness. She argues that instruction must move beyond grammar to a focus on teaching students to function effectively in oral and written discourse, including in professional settings.

SNS educators are also concerned that an inordinate focus on instruction in prestige varieties of Spanish may harm students by suggesting that the language they have learned at home and in their communities is inadequate. Collison (1994) reports the views on this issue of several leaders in SNS research and education. Francisco Alarcón (University of California, Davis) points out that many people view the Spanish spoken in the barrio as inferior. George Blanco (University of Texas, Austin) suggests that instructors should build on what students already know rather than trying to replace it. Ana Roca (Florida International University) believes that SNS instruction should focus on expanding students' cultural knowledge about their Hispanic heritage and helping them develop more formal registers--academic and professional varieties of the language--without making them feel deficient in the process.

Program Design, Instructional Strategies, and Materials

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, few resources were available for educators seeking to establish SNS programs or classes or to work with the Spanish speakers in their foreign language classes. Teachers generally relied on instructional strategies that they used with their English-speaking students and on self-made materials. Recently, more attention has been given to developing programs, instructional strategies, curricula, materials, and assessments designed specifically for Spanish speakers. A number of recent publications provide guidelines and resource lists (see, e.g., American Association of Spanish and Portuguese, 2000). See also Pino & Pino (2000) for a description of a 5-year SNS university program, with surveys for developing learner profiles and determining learner needs.

Some publications focus specifically on instructional strategies and activities that promote interaction among students, teachers, and community members (Carrasquillo & Segan, 1998; Colombi & Alarcón, 1997; Merino, Trueba, & Samaniego, 1993; Rodríguez-Pino, 1994). Roca and Colombi (in press) describe a number of ways that teachers can promote interaction and facilitate oral and written activities that build students' academic and professional skills in Spanish. In her textbook Nuevos mundos, Roca explains how content-based and thematic approaches that develop students' knowledge in important content areas (e.g., cultures and civilizations) while developing their language skills work well in SNS courses.

Numerous textbooks and materials designed for teaching Spanish-speaking students have become available in recent years, such as Entre mundos (Alonso-Lyrintzis, Zaslow, & Villarreal, 1996, Prentice Hall), Nuevos mundos (Roca, 1999, John Wiley & Sons), Español escrito (Valdés & Teschner, 1999, Prentice Hall), Nosotros y nuestro mundo (Schmitt & Woodford, 2000, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill), and Tu mundo (Samaniego, Alarcón, & Otheguy, 2002, McDougal Littell). Many textbook publishing companies now maintain special divisions for the production and marketing of SNS textbooks and materials. In addition, many textbook series for Spanish instruction to English speakers offer supplementary materials, such as workbooks and readers, for Spanish speakers enrolled in the classes.

The National Foreign Language Center has collaborated with the Center for Applied Linguistics to create an annotated bibliography of these and other Spanish textbooks and materials for Spanish speakers that are used in K–12 and university instruction. This bibliography will be online at the Web site of LangNet, the national portal for language resources, sponsored by the National Foreign Language Center.


Two or More Languages in Early Childhood: Some General Points and Practical Recommendations

posted Aug 29, 2012, 9:26 PM by Essia Bernstein

Annick De Houwer

In an increasingly diversified and multilingual world, more and more young children find themselves in an environment where more than one language is used. Similarly, with job changes that involve moving to different parts of the world, parents can feel overwhelmed by the linguistic demands on them and their children. What can parents expect of their children? Do parents have anything to contribute to the process of early language development? Does it confuse children to learn two or more languages at once? Do children have to be especially intelligent to be able to cope with more than one language?

People everywhere have strong ideas about children growing up with a second or third language. These ideas influence how people interact with their children and how they look at other people's children. These ideas also influence how professionals such as teachers, doctors, and speech therapists advise parents of children growing up bilingually. Sadly, many ideas that people have about children growing up with a second or third language in childhood are not of any benefit to these children and may in fact have adverse effects. One of the purposes of this digest is to dispel some common myths about children growing up bilingually and to offer suggestions that can help children to become fluent users of two or more languages.

A bilingual environment is most often a necessity, not a choice

Many discussions of the advantages or disadvantages of early bilingualism seem to be based on the idea that a bilingual environment is something that parents choose for their children. This, however, is usually not the case; young children growing up bilingually are for the most part doing so because there is no way that they can grow up monolingually. For example, it may be the case that the child interacts regularly with monolingual individuals, some of whom speak one language (e.g., teachers and classmates who speak only Italian), others of whom speak another (e.g., parents who speak only French). Other children may grow up in a community where most people speak the same two languages on a day-to-day basis. The usage rules for these languages determine when a particular language is spoken. Imposing changes in these conventions so that all bilingual speakers in the child's social world would limit themselves to one and the same language in all circumstances is not only impossible but also ethically dubious, because it would infringe on individuals' linguistic rights.

Hearing two or more languages in childhood is not a cause of language disorder or language delay

All over the Western world, there are speech therapists and medical doctors who advise parents of young children growing up with more than one language to stop using one of those languages with their children. Typically, the language to be given up is the language that is not used in the overall environment. For example, speech therapists in the United States often suggest that parents stop using Spanish at home in favor of English, while speech therapists in Flanders may advise parents to stop speaking English in favor of Dutch. The common reason for this advice is twofold. First, it is often claimed that hearing two or more languages will confuse the child and lead to grave problems in acquiring language. Second, it is claimed that the acquisition of the main language of the environment will stand a better chance without competition from the other language. However, there is no scientific evidence to date that hearing two or more languages leads to delays or disorders in language acquisition. Many, many children throughout the world grow up with two or more languages from infancy without showing any signs of language delays or disorders. These children provide visible proof that there is no causal relationship between a bilingual environment and language learning problems. In addition, there is no scientific evidence that giving up one language automatically has a beneficial effect on the other. In fact, the abrupt end of the use of the home language by a child's parents may lead to great emotional and psychological difficulties both for the parents and for the child. After all, language is strongly linked to emotion, affect, and identity. A 3-year-old whose mother suddenly stops talking to her in the language familiar to her, particularly if her mother does not respond to the things she says to her in that language, may make the child feel emotionally abandoned and totally lost. Speech therapists who advise monolingualism should then not be surprised to find that the child in question starts to exhibit troubling behavior. Should the child recover from this traumatic experience, there is no evidence that progress in the main language of the environment is helped by the loss of the home language. In fact, it has been shown in educational settings that building on a child's skills in a first language helps the acquisition of a second one.

Children's use of two languages within one sentence is not a sign of confusion

Often, it is claimed that small children who are learning to speak two languages go through a stage of mixing and confusing the two. The use of words from both languages in a single sentence is cited as evidence that the child cannot distinguish between the two languages, but in reality, this is not a sign of confusion. In fact, it has been shown that the use of two languages in one sentence by mature bilinguals reveals a great deal of linguistic skill (Romaine, 1995). It is also true that, while young bilingual children sometimes use words from two languages in the same sentence, they produce far more sentences using only one language. This clearly shows that they are able to keep their languages separate.

The question then becomes, in what circumstances do children use words from both languages in the same sentence? They do it only when talking to people that they know can understand both languages and who do not get upset with them for using such sentences. In other words, the social context in which children find themselves determines whether and to what extent they use more than one language in a single sentence. The same happens with bilingual adults; they use words from two languages in the same sentence only in sociolinguistic settings in which it is appropriate.

Children do not just "pick up" a language: They need a strongly supportive and rich environment

A prevailing idea is that it is very easy for children to learn a new language and that hardly any effort is involved. However, learning language, even one, is a process that takes many years. Languages are very complex. To learn all their complexities, one needs a lot of life experience. It may not take very long to learn how to carry on a simple conversation (although it does take monolingual children approximately 3 years before they can carry on an intelligible conversation with strangers), but it takes a lot more time to be able to develop the skill to give a formal speech. The environment plays an important role in learning to speak. Children learn to speak only when they hear people talk to them in many different circumstances. Language development in the early stages depends crucially on vocabulary knowledge. The more words children know, the better they will learn to speak and the better their chances of doing well in school. Book reading is an excellent source of help in the acquisition of vocabulary. Book reading in any language, even when a baby can hardly sit up yet, plays a highly supportive role not only in the learning of language but also in the emotional bonding between child and parent. Furthermore, it is an activity that is viewed in many cultures as appropriate for both mothers and fathers to engage in, and it is an excellent way of introducing children to aspects of culture that they may not see in their local environment.

Recommendations for parents

Because language in the first 10 years of life is such an important basis for the achievement of academic and social skills, it is no luxury to reflect a little more on just what elements play an important role in learning a language, whether it is one, two, or more. Although it is not possible here to spell out all the things that parents should consider when their child is in a situation where he or she could learn to speak more than one language, the brief list of pointers below offers some assistance. My advice to parents would be not to stop at this brief article but to read some of the material listed in the resource section. Investing in a child's bilingualism or multilingualism, after all, should yield a high return. Here are a few basic points that are important in raising children with more than one language:

  • Do what comes naturally to you and your family in terms of which language(s) you use when, but make sure your children hear both (or all three or four) languages frequently and in a variety of circumstances. Create opportunities for your children to use all of the languages they hear. Read books to and with your children in each of the languages that are important to their lives.

  • Talk to all your children in the same waynot, for instance, using one language with the elder and another language with the younger. Language is tied to emotions, and if you address your children in different languages, some of your children may feel excluded, which in turn might adversely affect their behavior.

  • Avoid abrupt changes in how you talk to your children, especially when they are under 6. Don't suddenly decide to speak French to them if you have only been using English. In this respect, beware of "experts" (e.g., doctors, teachers) who tell you to stop speaking a particular language to your child.

  • If you feel strongly about your children using one particular language with you, encourage them to use it in all of their communication with you. Try to discourage their use of another language with you by asking them to repeat what they said in the preferred language or by gently offering them the appropriate words in the language you want them to use. It is no more cruel than asking your child to say "please" before giving her a cookie.

  • Do not make language an issue, and do not rebuke or punish children for using or not using a particular language. If you feel your child is not talking as he or she should in the preschool years, have a hearing test done, even if teachers or doctors tell you that bilingualism is the cause of any language delays. Whatever else, follow your own intuition about what is best for you and your family.


Myths about Bilingualism

posted Aug 29, 2012, 9:21 PM by Essia Bernstein

  • "Learning two languages confuses a child and lowers his intelligence."
    Old, poorly designed studies done primarily in the United States claimed to show that bilinguals had lower intelligence than monolinguals. Newer research has revealed several flaws in the studies. The most obvious flaw is that the bilingual children were recent immigrants, with poorer knowledge of English and more stressful life situations than their monolingual counterparts. Newer studies with more careful controls have shown that bilinguals are better at some specific tasks, such as language games, but that otherwise the differences between bilinguals and monolinguals are negligible.

  • "A child should learn one language properly first; then you can start teaching the other."
    As in the myth above, this is an old belief based on flawed research. Children who learn two languages in a loving, supportive environment learn them both well. Children who learn two languages in a stressful environment may have language development problems - but so will children learning only one langauge in that same sort of environment.

  • "A child who learns two languages won't feel at home in either of them. She'll always feel caught between two cultures."
    Relatives, friends and strangers will often caution about the "identity problems" children may develop if their parents insist on maintaining a bilingual home. The children, they believe, will grow up without strongly identifying with either of the languages and, therefore, the groups that speak them. Adults who have themselves grown up bilingual, however, generally report when asked that they never had problems knowing what groups they were a part of. Some even find this concern to be rather bizarre.
    Children who feel accepted by both their cultures will identify with both. Unfortunately it happens that two cultures have such unfriendly relations that a child who should belong to both is instead shunned by both. This is not however a specifically bilingual issue.

  • "Bilinguals have to translate from their weaker to their stronger language."
    The overwhelming majority of bilinguals can think in either of their two languages. They do not, as some monolinguals assume, think in one language only and immediately translate into the other language when necessary.

  • "Children who grow up bilingual will make great translators when they grow up."
    By no means all bilinguals are good at translating. Nor have any studies shown that growing up bilingual gives one an advantage or a disadvantage over those who became bilingual as adults when it comes to translating. There are many other skills involved, and bilinguals, just like monolinguals, are too different to allow for easy generalizations.
    There is one important exception here, however. The sign language interpreters you may have seen on television or at public events are most often hearing children of Deaf parents, who grew up bilingual.

  • "Real bilinguals never mix their languages. Those who do are confused 'semi-linguals'."
    Bilinguals sometimes "mix" their languages, leading monolinguals to wonder if they are really able to tell them apart. Usually, the problem is not genuine confusion - that is, inability to tell the languages apart. Far more common problems are interference, when words or grammar from the one language "leak" into the other language without the speaker being aware of it - analogous to a slip of the tongue - or "code-switching", when the speaker more or less intentionally switches languages for effect - analogous to mixing jargon or slang in with standard speech.
    Many, if not most, bilingual children will use both languages at once during the early stages of their language development. Semi-lingualism is a far more serious, and relatively rare, situation that occurs when a child in a stressful environment is trying to learn two or more languages with very little input in any of them.

  • "Bilinguals have split personalities."
    Some bilinguals do report feeling that they have a different "personality" for each language. However, this may be because they are acting according to different cultural norms when speaking each of their languages. When speaking English, they assume the cultural role expected of them in English-speaking society. This is different than the cultural role expected of them in German-speaking society, which they assume when speaking German. The change in language cues a change in cultural expectations.

  • "Bilingualism is a charming exception, but monolingualism is of course the rule."
    No accurate survey of the number of bilinguals in the world has ever been taken; for fairly obvious practical reasons, it is likely none ever will be. But it is very reasonable to guess that over half the world's population is bilingual. Most of those who will read this live in countries where monolingualism is the rule, but are seeing a very unrepresentative sample of the world. See the section on "National versus Personal Bilingualism" on the Politics of Bilingualism page.

  • "Be very careful; if you don't follow the rules exactly, your children will never manage to learn both languages!"
    Some people maintain that "the only way" to raise bilingual children is to follow one specific pattern, usually by speaking both languages in the home. Practical experience, on the other hand, has shown that children learn both languages regardless of the pattern of exposure, as long as that pattern is reasonably consistent (and perhaps even that is not a requirement!). More information can be found on the Practical Help page.

  • "You'll never manage to make him bilingual now. People really can't learn a language after age X."
    Language learning is easier the younger you are when you start, and there are biological reasons why very few adults can learn to speak a new language with a native accent. However, people can learn valuable language skills at any age. Establishing a bilingual home when your first child is born, if not before, is the easiest for all, but it can be done later if you for some reason must do so.
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Influences on Language Development

posted Aug 29, 2012, 9:12 PM by Essia Bernstein

Which factors influence language development?

Language development is never a static process, it is rather a process that is forever evolving. One can compare this to the physical development of a child, in the first three years the developments are incredibly rapid. The speed of these developments are influenced by internal and external factors which play as well a crucial role in the language development of a child.

Internal factors can be of the following nature:

A motivation to speak well: a child can sense when it must articulate its needs and will always try till success is guaranteed. When a child feels that he is able to obtain his wishes even without correct speech, it then creates a lower level of motivation to perfect his speech.

Illness that affect language development: A child can experience hearing problems, speech impediments or can have stuttering problems resulting from illnesses or damage to the inner ear.  Other illnesses which can influence the language development in a child are Dyslexia, Aphasia or Alexia (reading disability).

External Factors can be of the following nature:

Language Level of the Parents and Teachers: There is a strong correlation between the language level of the parent and that of the child. If the parents use an elevated speech pattern this will positively influence the development level of the child to an above average level. The same goes for a child in an environment where illiteracy prevails.

Motivation of the Parent and/or Teacher to increase greater proficiency in the language:  It is important for the parent and/or teacher to convey the meaning of language to the child as a learning tool, a key to greater comprehension of the world at large, and that one can also have fun with language.

Internal and external factors play a even greater role in a bilingual or multilingual environment, especially for language development which differs from the host country.

The following factors take on greater meaning with children brought up bilingually or raised in a multilingual environment:

  • Consistency with the use of one language per parent.  For example, the father always speaks German, the mother always Spanish.
  • Acceptance of the social environment allowing the child to speak in another language, even if  not the host language.
  • Acceptance of transitional phases of the child’s environment, for example,  the start at  Kindergarten, Primary School or the advancement towards High School.

There are also external factors which permit the weaker language to emerge later as the stronger one when one undertakes a move to the country in which the language is spoken either through familial ties or work or the enrollment of the child at an international school.

Yet one must not forget though that judging the language level of the child is only a momentary survey. It is better to have the end goal in mind which allows the child to develop his potential to the full extent of his abilities by providing him the environment conducive to that goal.


Raising Bilingual Children

posted Aug 29, 2012, 9:08 PM by Essia Bernstein

by: Marsha Rosenberg

The idea of raising bilingual children is both appealing and possible for more and more families these days, and growing up with more than one language certainly has its advantages in today's global village. Yet bilingualism really isn't something that simply happens. Raising kids to be successful in more than one language requires some careful planning and learning about bilingual language development.

The reasons for choosing to raise kids with two or more languages are as varied as the families themselves. Even the word "bilingualism" has different meanings for different families. For some families, having the ability to listen in two languages but speak in just one may constitute bilingualism, while other parents expect their kids not only to be bilingual, but also literate in both languages. Whatever the goals for developing bilingualism in each family may be, success appears to depend on whether a "language plan" has been worked out in advance. Families who take the time to consider how their kids will develop two languages, and who make the necessary commitments to bilingual language development, tend to be more successful in raising bilingual children.

If you're thinking about bringing up your children bilingually, it's a good idea to clarify your own definition of bilingualism. Language proficiency can be evaluated in terms of listening, speaking, reading and writing. You could also add a fifth area of speech and language, in which a person is able to use one or both languages for reasoning, to your definition of bilingualism. A person may speak only on language but have listening comprehension in two languages. Another may listen and speak in two languages but reading and writing ability in only one.

The term balanced bilingualism is used to describe individuals who possess about the same fluency in two languages, while semilingualism refers to those who have deficiencies in both languages compared with monolinguals. These deficiencies could be in a reduced vocabulary, incorrect grammatical patterns, difficulty thinking or expressing emotions in one of the languages, etc. Few people are truly balanced bilinguals in both languages in all situations. One language is usually dominant. This dominance may be different for listening and speaking or for reading and writing and usually changes over time.

At any rate, it's most useful to define for yourself what type of bilingualism is important and necessary in your family, within your community and culture, in order to pan a strategy for raising kids with the ability to use more than one language.

Most of us are able to learn a second language at any time in our lives. And, thought no critical age for bilingual language development has been found, kids do tend to develop more native-like pronunciation when bilingualism begins before adolescence. Two types of childhood bilingualism have been define. The first is simultaneous learning of two languages, which tends to be affect by four key factors:

  • The parents' ability in one or more languages. Some parents speak only one language, the language of the home, and are unable to speak the language of the school and possibly of the community.
  • The parents' actual use of language with the child. The parents may have language ability in two or more languages but have made a decision about which language they speak with the child.
  • The language or languages other family members speak with the child, such as the language spoken between siblings or between children and grandparents.
  • The last factor is the language the child uses in the community.
The second type of childhood bilingualism is called sequential or successive bilingualism. This happens when a child has one established language before learning a second language, whether in preschool or later (the age of three usually separates simultaneous and sequential language learning). Some kids and adults, of course, usually learn a second language formally through school or language classes.

Families who take the time to discuss their goals for language development often see their kids acquire higher levels of language skills in both languages. Parents need to talk about how bilingualism will be achieved for their children, looking at what language strategies will be used by each parent, what is being taught at school, and what areas need to be emphasized outside of school.

Experts stress separating the languages to make language acquisition easier for kids. When kids are learning two languages at the same time parents need to work out language strategies that emphasize boundaries between the languages. For example:

  • One parent, one language. Each parent consistently speaks one language while the other parent speaks another language (usually each on speaking his or her native language to the child and possibly the common language to each other).
  • Both parents speak one language in the home and a second language is used at school.
  • One language is used in the home and at school and the second language is used in the community.
  • Both parents speak both languages to the child but separate the languages according to speaking situations or alternate days.
Consistency is key in early language learning. If you mix languages in the same conversation, young kids experience difficulty separating vocabulary and grammar into the appropriate language. The child may learn the "mixed" language as one hybrid language.

Parents also need to consider how to strike a balance between the languages. If a child attends school in one language all day and has only a short time to hear the other language at home, it's likely the school language will develop more easily than the home language. Parents have to plan for additional time spent using the home language in a variety of situations and with a variety of speakers. Rich language experiences in both languages are essential for good bilingual development.

The quality of the language interaction is also very important. The language used shouldn't be too complex and parents should learn to expand their child's language as well as give encouragement and approval. Parents need to be good listeners and good language models by introducing rich vocabulary and varied conversations. Providing books, music, and even videos in both language is also important.

Parents should also be aware of individual difference among children. Each child learns language at his or her own speed. This is related to a variety of factors, such as:

  • Stability and mobility. A family that remains in the second language community for a longer period of time will increase the chances of the child retaining the second language.
  • Relationships within the family affect bilingual language development. For example, if the father speaks a different language than the mother, but frequent trips take him away from home, the child will not learn his language as easily as the mother's.
  • Attitudes toward each language expressed by the parents, other family members, the school, the community and especially the child, will affect the development or one or both of the languages. Both languages must be given importance and a sense of worth in all aspects of the child's life. All kids have a need and a desire to communicate when language experiences are positive and meaningful.
Knowing two or more languages truly gives kids so many advantages in life. Bilingual kids have the advantage of knowing two cultures, of being able to communicate with a wider variety of people, and of possible economic advantages in their future. Research has even shown advantages in thinking skills among bilingual individuals. But deciding to raise bilingual kids is a decision that should be carefully considered as it affect children for the rest of their lives. Parents need to consider the child's self identity, self-esteem, schooling options, as well as social factors when planning for bilingualism. Becoming bilingual is a special gift parents can offer their children, but the gift must be planned and presented with care for it to be well used and appreciated.


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