An international study is in progress which involves twins, it aims to see if the ability to learn languages applies equally to Chinese and English.This is based on a phenomenon about bilingual learning in Hong Kong that suggests that mastering Cantonese and learning to write characters was harder for some Hong Kong children than learning English. Researchers want to look at the individual genes and find out which components of reading and writing are associated more with which genes. They hope that the study will uncover the best way to teach children languages, which will allow them to figure out whether they should teach Chinese and English in the same way or teach the two languages differently.
According to Associate Professor Callahan, from the University of Texas, there are several advantages as a bilingual, however only 1 in 4 Americans can talk in another language. This can be due to many social and political factors that believe that speaking only one languages is better, which can be contradicted by research. According to past research findings, bilinguals are more likely to get a job when they interview, develop a greater sense of empathy, possess better problem solving skills and sharper mental perceptions, among other things. The promotion of bilingualism in more homes could help children contribute more as adults.
Professor Ping Li, along with Penn State colleagues, believe that learning and practicing a second language can change your brain network, structurally and functionally. They studied 39 native English speakers’ brains for a six-week period, half of the participants were asked to learn Chinese vocabulary. Of the subjects learning the new vocabulary, those who were more successful in attaining the information showed a more connected brain network than both the less successful participants and those who did not learn the new vocabulary. MRI scans demonstrated that the brain network of the successful learners was better integrated. The findings are consistent with changes that occur in the brain as a result of learning a second language, no matter the age of the learner.
The University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab conducted a study focusing on whether an emotional connotation of the most commonly used words could reveal a preference for positivity and joy over sadness and cynicism. They decided to use 100,000 of the most frequently used words in the media, amongst the top ten most popular languages. Native speakers were asked to rank these words on a nine point emotional scale, with 1 being the most negative or saddest, 5 being neutral and 9 being the most positive or happiest. They were able to conclude that the most popular languages tend to prefer happier words than those with negative connotations. Researchers found that Spanish was the happiest, and English was amongst the top five. They believe this will pave the way for the development of powerful language-based tools for measuring emotion.
A group of linguists and evolutionary biologists from the Australia National University conducted a study which demonstrated that languages evolve at different speeds, depending on the size of the population that speaks them. They compared 20 different Polynesian languages, which shared a common ancestor, considered to be “sister languages”. The researchers decided to compare the languages with different population sizes and observe if there were any differences in the vocabulary. The results demonstrated that languages with larger populations gained new vocabulary faster than the languages with a smaller population size. More often the languages with a smaller population tended to lose vocabulary faster than those in a larger population, which is similar to the biological evolution. The researchers believe that they still need to continue looking at other languages in order to confirm these results, and assume that the general feature of language evolution.
Sean G. Roberts, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Evolutionary Anthropology and Mathematics in the Sciences in Nijmegen, along with other researchers have looked at a total of 3,750 languages from different linguistic families. They were able to find a correlation between humidity and tone pitch. The humidity allows the mucous membranes in the larynx to remain moist, making them more elastic. Due to this there is a wider range of tone pitches in regions with a higher humidity, meanwhile, languages with a more simpler tone are commonly found in drier regions. This can serve to explain why tonal languages, found in the Tropics, Subtropical Asia and Central Africa, are rarer in dry areas, such as Central Europe. The findings demonstrate that climate is able to determine the development of languages.
A study recently published in the journal Cognition, by Thomas Bak, Mariana Vega-Mendoza, and Antonella Sorace, demonstrated that learning a second language could improve a person’s mental agility, at any age. The study involved 200 students where the researchers assessed their mental alertness, such as the production of different words and concentration on certain sounds. There was a comparison made between first year students, who had just started to learn a language, and fourth year students, who were more proficient in the language. The results from the study demonstrated that students who learned a second language were better at switching their attention to filter information. The researchers believe that the study confirms the cognitive benefits of learning and language learning.