Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mathematics and the Bilingual Brain

IMG-Math

Language is an integral part of mathematics. Nicole Y.Y. Wicha, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at University of Texas at San Antonio, and her team of researchers are currently investigating the effects of bilingualism on the ability to perform basic mathematical operations. More specifically, she is examining whether it is the native or spoken language that is used when evaluating multiplication problems. Her original findings supported previous hypotheses that basic math “was hard-wired in the brain in the language in which it was learned.” However, further analysis showed that this was not the case. In fact, data supported that mathematic operations were performed quicker in the language participants were immersed in and spoke in their daily lives. The findings are significant because it helps show that bilingual children are not disadvantaged in comparison to their monolingual counterparts when learning mathematics in school.

Original article: http://utsa.edu/discovery/2012/story/feature-math-bilingual-brain.html

Another interesting example of how bilingualism affects basic mathematics is with the simple task of counting. Blogger Stephen Greene is raising a bilingual family in Brazil. Mr. T (taken to be his young son) is learning to count in both English and Portuguese. What Greene has found is that Mr. T does not confuse numbers in English with those in Portuguese and vice versa. This could be the first sign that he is compartmentalizing the two languages in his brain.

Original article: http://headoftheheard.com/2014/02/17/a-bilingual-child-count-me-in/

Bilingual children have a dual-process mind, lower stress levels

kids

It has been proposed that in addition to bilingual children having an enhanced ability to process sounds, that they also use two completely separate sound systems to learn languages. In his latest studies, researcher Skott Freedman of Ithaca College has examined sound sets in English/Spanish-speaking bilingual children. Freedman’s results confirmed the dual-process learning ability, which dives deeper into how bilingual children pick up languages so quickly. His research also showed that bilingual children not only learn two different words at the same time, but they keep these words completely separate within their inner thought process. Until now, many parents worried that exposing their child to multiple languages would lead to confusion and frustration. However, with this new data, parents should rest assured that their child will actually benefit from bilingualism. Further research conducted at Northwestern University provides additional support for the benefits of bilingualism in children, some of which include:

• Improved attention to detail
• Ability to focus on important details
• Early onset of conflict management skills
• Improved memory
• Improved executive control
• Protection against certain illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease
• Lessening of symptoms associated with cognitive decline
• Improved social skills
• Reduced stress
• Reduced risk for depression

Original article: http://voxxi.com/2013/07/16/bilingual-children-cognitive-health-stress/

Additional research information: http://ijb.sagepub.com/content/16/4/369.full.pdf+html

Federal bilingualism must not be allowed to slide

canada

In Canada, The Official Languages Act gives English and French equal status in the country’s government. Fostering bilingualism is something the nation has prided itself in since it was enacted in September of 1969. The bilingual status promoted in the Act is one of the defining features of the nation’s identity, and it has been a crucial factor in the preservation of national unity. In his latest report, Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, declared that there has been a general decline in bilingualism in the federal public service. Fraser found instances of negligence in even the highest rankings of the Canadian government, where English was becoming the go-to-language in what was becoming a unilingual system. The government will need to find a way to enhance its policy in order to preserve Canadian law, policy and excellence.

Original article: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Editorial+Federal+bilingualism+must+allowed+slide/9161534/story.html

Bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia

New research conducted by Nizam’s Institutes of Medical Sciences in India suggests that bilingualism can delay the onset of three types of dementia: frontotemporal, vascular, and Alzheimer’s disease. Of the patients studied who were diagnosed with dementia, over half were bilingual. These patients’ records showed that they had developed dementia, on average, 4.5 years later than their monolingual counterparts. Interestingly enough, the researchers also found that literacy did not play a factor in the delay period. How bilingualism actually slows the effects of dementia is still unclear, however. The science behind the mechanism of action is certain to be the next phase of research.

The original article can be found here: http://www.salon.com/2013/11/08/bilingualism_could_delay_onset_of_dementia_partner/

Bilingualism helps aphasia sufferers relearn primary language

aphasia

Aphasia is a condition in which those who have suffered a brain injury, such as a stroke, become impaired in their ability to use and understand language. Recent studies show that while being bilingual adds difficulty to the rehabilitation process, due to the disruption between the two languages, being able to fluently speak two languages can be used as an aid in recovery. Interestingly enough, focusing on rehabilitation in the secondary language results in a “transfer effect” to the primary. Correlations between syntax, phonology, vocabulary and meaning aid language rehabilitation, but the researchers say working on cognates help the most with language transfer. This interesting application of bilingualism will hopefully lead to even more beneficial rehabilitation methods.

The original article can be found here: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266743.php

Bilingualism is Yoga for the Brain

yoga

Contrary to previous belief that learning two languages at once would hurt kids when it comes to language processing, learning a second language is now something stressed at a young age and being bilingual is seen as a benefit. Research shows that bilinguals have greater levels of mental flexibility than those who speak only one language. This is due to the fact that fluent bilinguals have both languages active at all times, regardless of whether they’re consciously using both, and they are able to control the parallel activity of both languages and select which one they want to use without actually consciously thinking about it. Hopefully this new research will decrease the age at which students in the United States learn a second language and lead to an increase in bilingualism.

The original article can be found here: http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/bilingualism-mental-flexibility/story?id=20247781

Praat Workshop by Erin O’Rourke

The University of Pittsburgh’s Erin O’Rourke will be giving a workshop on Praat on December 2nd at 10am in the Bilingualism Research Lab (1700 University Hall, 601 S. Morgan St., Chicago).  If you are unfamiliar with Praat, on its website http://www.fon.hum.uva.nl/praat/ Sidney Wood describes it in the following manner:

  • Praat is a program for speech analysis and synthesis written by Paul Boersma och David Weenink at the Department of Phonetics of the University of Amsterdam (links on the Contents page). The program is constantly being improved and a new build is published almost every week. Version 4.2 was published in March 2004 and the last build was 4.2.34. Version 4.3 was introduced in February 2005 and the current builds (22 February 2005) are 4.3.00 for Solaris, 4.3.01 for Linux and 4.3.02 for Windows and Macintosh.
  • All are welcome to participate in the workshop and are encouraged to download Pratt on their laptop beforehand.