Bilingualism effects on the brain


Have you ever wondered how bilingualism effects the brain? Recent studies have demonstrated that there are several things that occur differently in a bilingual brain. The posterior parietal lobe appears to be larger among bilinguals, this section of the brain is related to the acquisition of a second language. This section is more stimulated if the second language is learned at a younger age. The process to acquiring a language is different when learning a second language at a different stage of your life. Studies have also demonstrated that certain words in the second language, are able to activate brain areas, such as the motor and premotor cortex. These areas in the brain are stimulated only during physical activities, demonstrating a union between the body and language. Bilingualism in the long run has demonstrated benefits in learning but it also displays cognitive reserve for later on in life, which will delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Bilingualism makes brain more fit to cut distractions


A research team led by Roberto Filippi of Anglia Ruskin University conducted a study which reconfirmed that bilingualism makes your brain more “fit” and better able to cut through distractions while accomplishing a task. The study was composed of 40 children, 20 of them were bilingual, while the rest only spoke English. The participants were asked to answer questions while being distracted by audio clips spoken in Greek and English. The study’s results demonstrated how bilingual children did significantly better than the monolinguals in concentrating on the task. According to Fillippi the acquisition of two languages in early childhood provides a beneficial effect on cognitive development and may help later on in life.

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Newborns cry in their native language


Scientists from the University of Würzburg, as well as researchers from the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris developed a study which discovered that German and French newborn babies cry in their native language. The researchers focused on German and French languages because of the differences in the intonation of each language. In French, the stress lies towards the end but in German it’s usually at the beginning. This difference in intonation would also produce a difference in melody and rhythm. As a result, French newborns produced cries with a rising melody contour, while the German newborns cried with falling contours. This means that the cry melody of German infants was most intense at the start, meanwhile the French infants’ cry intensifies towards the end. The results gathered from the study demonstrate how newborns were able to  reproduce exactly the same intonation patterns that are typical of their respective mother tongues. More in depth research will be conducted on this and whether the cry melody can be a potential risk indicator for later language development.

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Oral language, a good predictor of writing difficulties

According to a new study by Professor Phaedra Royle and Postdoctoral fellow Alexandra Marquis of the University of Montreal’s School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, there is a relationship between oral and written language skills. 71 children, ages six to nine, participated in the study which focused on the children’s ability to orally conjugate verbs in the past tense or to use auxiliaries and other grammatical elements in writing. 38 children only spoke French, while 33 were multilingual, with French being their second or third language. The children were initially evaluated in the first grade and later retested by the end of second grade. The results obtained from the study demonstrated that that first grade oral skills were predictive of second grade writing skills. Morphological awareness in a spoken language can predict possible spelling and grammar difficulties in a written language. According to Professor Royle, the more children are able to use verb tense in spoken language, the more easily they can learn written language. The data also revealed a link between oral and written morphosyntactic skills for both groups of children. This study also served to contradict the popular belief that bilingualism, at an early age, can be detrimental to oral and written language learning.

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The Disfluent Speech of Bilingual Spanish-English Children


The research article, The Disfluent Speech of Bilingual Spanish-English Children: Considerations for Differential Diagnosis of Stuttering, by Courtney T. Byrd, Lisa M. Bedore, and Daniel Ramos was published earlier this month. Since the Bilingualism Research Lab, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is also conducting research on the study of bilingualism we decided to contact one of the authors for more information. Courtney T. Byrd kindly agreed to give a brief summary of their article, stating that, “Researchers recently suggested bilingualism is a risk factor for stuttering. Our study suggests that the assumption that there is an increased risk is confounded by the critical overlap that exists in the disfluencies that we categorize as mazes and those we categorize as stuttering like disfluencies. Thus, we propose the risk is related to false positive diagnosis of stuttering as opposed to true positive risk of development. In this manuscript we also offer specific suggestions to enhance differential diagnosis of stuttering in Spanish-English bilinguals and monolingual English speakers.”

More information on their article:

Gene Foxp2 Facilitates Learning


Researchers from MIT and several European universities have conducted studies on a type of gene, Foxp2, that may help humans with a key component of learning language. The researchers also believe that Foxp2 is one of several genes that has contributed to the abilities to generate and comprehend language, which only humans possess. The humanized gene was tested out on mice and demonstrated to provide improvements in their behavior as well as memory. The protein produced by the gene produces changes taking place in the brain, allowing it to adapt to speech and language acquisition. More research is necessary and is  being conducted in order to see how Foxp2 interacts with other genes to produce its effects of learning and language.

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Different Accents in One State


Several Standford researchers have decided to conduct a study, “Voices of California”, in Central California in order to fully understand how the community views itself, its region, the rest of the state and how that’s reflected in the way they speak. Penny Eckert, a professor of linguistics and anthropology at Standford University, focused the project primarily on California because of its rich diversity. Several participants were asked basic question about their life, memories and thoughts of Sacramento as well as the pronunciation for several words. The pronunciation would later be analyzed for vowel sound and word choice. Researchers have not yet analyzed all the data but one of the findings has demonstrated that in certain cities people’s pronunciation and word choice were more influenced by the South than those on California’s coast.

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