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Bilingualism: What happens in the brain?

According to this article, bilingualism is on the rise in the United States. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of people over the age of 5 that speak a language other than English at home (20.7 percent) has more than doubled since 1980, where it was at 9.6 percent. With the rising number for bilingual people, there also comes an increase in research into the science of this skill. Questions that come up are: “Do the brains of bilinguals differ from those of monolinguals?” “And do bilinguals have the edge over monolinguals when it comes to cognitive functioning and learning new languages? “. The author of this article sought out to answer some of these questions.

The author, Yella Hewings-Martin PhD gives examples of dispelling myths; one of those being that mixing languages holds bilingual children back from learning both languages. However, children do not lag behind monolinguals when it comes to language development. In fact, according to Hewings-Martin, children are capable of developing vocabulary in two languages without being confused. When they do mix words from different languages in once sentence, this is known as code-switching and it is not because children cannot tell which word belongs to which language.

According to the author, once a bilingual person hears words in one language, the other language is also activated. Scientists believe that the brains of bilinguals adapt to the constant conversation of two languages, and this is how their brains are different than those of monolinguals. The author pulls together a series of studies and on going investigations into the benefits of bilingualism. Research gathered shows that different areas of the brain are needed to cope with phonological competition from within the same language, compared with between language competition.  Since there is competition between the two languages, bilinguals require additional frontal control and in subcortical regions.

Another benefit stated through research from the author, indicates attributes to cognitive health since attention control is a central aspect of cognitive health that tends to decline with age, however, boots in the attention systems through bilingualism have potential to sustain cognitive function in older age. This is developed through the ongoing used of attention needed to manage selection between two jointly-activated languages. Task switching was also addressed in the article because research results done in one study indicated that bilinguals were faster at disengaging their attention from one trial so that they could focus on the next trial when a different response was required.

Finally, in the last piece of evidence presented by the author, it has to do with electroencephalogram analysis and how researchers found a clear difference in the brain waves of both monolingual and bilingual students when listening to sentences in the language chosen for the study: Brocato2. This small study indicated that there was novel brain-based data point towards a distinct language-learning benefit for people who grew up bilingual. Over all the research done by the author reaffirms the importance of bilingualism of all kinds of languages as well as the differences in those who and bilingual compared to those who are not.

See full article here: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319642.php

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The joys and benefits of bilingualism

The article describes how a man and his wife move their children from England, where the children were raised, back to their home land, Italy. There the author explains how the children must try to become fully bilingual in both English and Italian.

When the children were younger, growing up in England, they used to speak Italian but because their mother wanted to assimilate them into the English world, the children lost their ability to speak the language although they were still able to understand it. The father, who is the author of the article talks about how their personalities have changed as they relearn the language (Italian), and how interesting it is to see these changes when they speak and in how they act.

Jones briefly talks about bilingualism and how it has changed peoples opinions over the years. Until recent years, bilingualism was seen as bad because it was considered to be “deleterious to development”, and it was also thought to “impede integration at school and probably lead to academic regression and confusion,”. Later, according to Jones, some studies concluded and proved the complete opposite. What emerged, through hundreds of experiments, was the notion that rather than having two different “pockets” containing French and English, the bilingual’s brain had one huge holdall for both, according to Jones.

Along with this, other research arose about the ability to empathize through the acquisition of more than one language. It was obvious to the author that if a bilingual is habitually changing their language to accommodate the interlocutor and their context, the bilinguals inevitably going to be used to taking into account other people’s abilities and points of view. Jones goes on to name other benefits and studies that have shown that speaking a secondary language has been and is beneficial for those who speak it, and how he has seen this first hand with his children.

However, Jones knows that not everyone is on board when it comes to bilingualism. Nationalists see it as a bad thing, calling “code-switching” traitorous.  In recent years, certain separatist movements have assiduously promoted their own tongue and, inadvertently or deliberately, reduced the use of another. The author also touches base on the differences between languages, and how he finds it hard to think in one language and speak in another, because there are usually no equivalent phrases or words to the ones he knows in English, and so he cannot translate them directly into Italian.

He ends by saying that, the hypothesis – known also as “linguistic relativism” – surely points to a truth: that the more languages we know, the more agile our conceptual thinking will be. He says that when someone learns a new language they not only learn new words, or sounds, but new notions. This is what he has witnessed first hand with his children. Jones compares this to putting on new glasses to be able to see the world with different eyes. Through this acquisition of different languages, one is able to then gain a different perspective on the world.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/21/the-joys-and-benefits-of-bilingualism

 

Bilingual Children have a Two-Tracked Mind

The article, written by Ithaca College focuses on a hypothesis that ‘(if) bilingual children  differ in their productions between languages, they will nevertheless maintain a similar level of overall approximation,’ according to Freedman. According to this article, this hypothesis was confirmed due to a study done using English-Hungarian bilingual children. However, this hypothesis has never been tested in Spanish, which is surprising considering it is the fastest-growing language currently in the United States and therefore was tested in this article.

Freedman’s study compared the languages productions of five English-Spanish bilingual children during a picture-naming task, to the production of five English-only and five Spanish-only speaking children. Through these results, Freedman was able to confirm his hypothesis. He found that bilingual children produce more complex forms in Spanish than in English. However, they approximated English and Spanish to the same degree. In addition to this, Freedman found that there was no production differences between bilingual children and the children who only spoke on language, indicating a sufficient amount of independence between a bilingual child’s two sound systems. According to Freedman, the finding in this study make a case against “not exposing children to more than one language at birth because they might be confused or overwhelmed,” since the bilingual children in this study managed to learn two sets of words at the same time and keep those two systems separate, thus proving that they can keep the sound systems separate.

See full article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130715151106.htm

 

 

Bilingual babies: Study shows how exposure to a foreign language ignites infants’ learning

According to the author, Deborah Bach,  scientists and parents alike have touted the benefits of introducing babies to two languages. According to this article, bilingual experience has been shown to improve cognitive abilities, specifically problem-solving.  The question this article asks is the following: how can babies in monolingual households develop skills that infants raised in a bilingual home do?

A new study by I-LABS researchers, published July 17 in Mind, Brain, and Education, is one of the first to investigate how babies can learn a second language outside of the home. Therefore, this study sought to answer the question: ‘Can babies be taught a second language if they don’t get foreign language exposure at home, and if so, what kind of foreign language exposure, and how much, is needed to spark that learning?’

The study was taken to and conducted in Madrid, Spain. Here, an English-language method, curriculum and implementing took place in Madrid’s public education system, where researchers were able to enroll 280 infants and children from families of varying income levels. Based on I-LABS research, methods emphasized in this study were social interactions, play, and high quality and quantity of language from the teachers. These approaches included “infant-directed speech”, a style used by parents to talk to their babies, which includes simpler grammar, higher and exaggerated pitch, and drawn-out vowels. According to their research this type of approach helps babies learn language.

Babies in the study, ages 7-33.5 months were given one hour of English sessions a day for 18 weeks, while the control group received the Madrid schools standard bilingual program. According to Bach, both groups of children were tested in Spanish and English at the start and end of the 18 weeks. The children also wore special vests with lightweight recorders to record their English learning. The recordings were analyzed to determine how many English words and phrases each child spoke.

The study found that by the end of the 18 weeks, the children in the program out-performed the children in the control group in English comprehension and production. Thus the findings in this study suggest  that even babies from monolingual homes can develop bilingual abilities at an early age with the right science-based approach that combines the features known to grow children’s language. It is possible to give very young children the opportunity to start learning a second language, according to Ferjan Ramirez.

Follow-up testing 18 weeks later showed the children had retained what they learned. The English gains were similar between children attending the two schools serving predominantly low-income neighborhoods and the two serving mid-income areas, suggesting that wealth was not a significant factor in the infants’ ability to learn a foreign language. Children’s native language (Spanish) continued to grow as they were learning English, and was not negatively affected by introducing a second language, according to Bach.

According to the author the information provided has the potential to transform how early language instruction is approached in the United States and worldwide.

http://www.washington.edu/news/2017/07/17/bilingual-babies-study-shows-how-exposure-to-a-foreign-language-ignites-infants-learning/

 

Learning a foreign language a ‘must’ in Europe, not so in America

Kat Devlin writes a quick article on the stereotypical American tourist, one who is at a loss when it comes to coping with any language other than English. This could be largely in part because students in the U.S are not required to learn another language while growing up. On the other hand in Europe, students are required to learn multiple languages in the classroom before becoming teens, according to Devlin.

According the a 2012 report from Eurostat, starting to study a second language for at least one year is compulsory in more than 20 European countries and is done so between the ages of 6 and 9. However, the starting ages range from country to country as well as the second language being introduced. This study did find that English was the most-studied foreign language all across Europe at all education levels and this can be seen in countries that require students to learn English as well as schools who do not enforce that requirement. The second most popular languages being studied across Europe are French and German, followed by Spanish and Russian, and all other languages making up about 5% in most countries.

In the United States however, nationwide foreign-language is not mandated at any level of education, according to Devlin. States are able to establish language requirements in high schools and primary schools but there are very low rates of even offering foreign-language courses. Devlin suggests that it is perhaps because of these standards, few Americans who claim to speak a non-English language say that they acquired those skills in school. Most of these multilinguals, 89% said they acquired these skills in their childhood home , with only 7% reporting that school was their main setting for language acquisition and thus affirming Devlin’s suggestion.

 

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/13/learning-a-foreign-language-a-must-in-europe-not-so-in-america/

 

Do Musicians Make Better Language Learners?

The article written by Aneta Pavlenko begins with the naming of singers who perform in several different languages, from Italian to Spanish, French to German, Portuguese, Arabic, Czech, and of course English. According to Pavlenko, these examples provide evidence for those who believe that people with musical talent- or at least musical training- have an easier time learning foreign languages. Pavlenko states that this can be due to the musicians ability to pick up sound patterns of the second language because of their years of training with pitch and sound patterns.

However, the link between musical ability and second language learning is not as direct as one would think, because each area (music and language) is represented in different areas of the brain. Further evidence of this separation comes from people with language impairments, who still retain their musical ability, and vice versa. Both language and music reply on similar processes: detection of differences in pitch, meter, rhythm, phrasing and interpretation, tonal memory, memory for long sequences, and the ability to imitate and improvise based on familiar sequences. This ultimately lead researchers to two questions: Are abilities in one domain easily transferred to another? And are musicians better second language learners than the rest of us?

To help answer these questions, researchers turned to languages that differ in uses of pitch or perceived frequency, how musical ability affects the learning of L2 Mandarin by L1 English speakers. They found that months of private music lessons were better predictors of the accuracy of tonal word learning than general cognitive ability and L2 aptitude, according to Pavlenko. Other studies done provided evidence that musical variables were not powerful predictors, but instead that a key predictor was the success on linguistic tasks involving tone discrimination. Despite these findings there was no conclusive evidence that musicians were better at L2 learning or had superior pronunciation skills.

Due to this data Diana Deutsch and her colleges hypothesized that perhaps speakers of tonal languages would have superior sensitivity to pitch. This hypothesis was tested along with other studies and found that speakers of tonal languages were better at identifying musical pitches than speakers of English or French and were more likely to have absolute pitch, according to Pavlenko. In conclusion, that author states that there is much more to L2 learning than tonal discrimination and when it comes to syntax, vocabulary or pragmatics, musicians have no advantage over the rest of us. However, this does not mean that music cannot be useful in learning a language.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual/201707/do-musicians-make-better-language-learners

 

What Canada’s population will look like in 2036

The article written by Patrick Cain claims that by the time Canada rolls out the 2036 census, the country will be shaped even more by the many trends that are being seen today.

It is expected that 40 percent of the working-age population will be minorities, the number of people practicing non-Christian religion will double, most of the immigrant population will be from Asian countries, and the immigration population will continue to flood to major cities in Canada. However, the most important aspect of this article was how immigration will change “Canada’s always-thorny” language politics. However,  the article did not say how they will change.

According to the statistics presented in this article, the change in language policies will be due to the percentage increase of the population having another mother tongue besides English or French, thus it is predicted that the  French mother tongue population will fall in places like Quebec and the rest of Canada.  This will also result in, according to the article, English to be spoken more often than French. More Francophones will become bilingual and will cause less Canadians to be able to speak French at all, according to Cain.

The results of these changes, according to the article, will hint at long-term pressures on bilingual programs, although English-French bilingualism aren’t expected to go anywhere.

 

What Canada’s population will look like in 2036