How do kids absorb language?

Happy New Year! Here is the first interesting article for 2017.

The University of Victoria, under Alexandra D’Arcy, will be conducting a five-year research to better understand how young kids absorb language. The project will pay especial focus to who the individuals influencing the child’s language development are. ‘I want to know when exactly it is and then how it is that kids start moving changes forward,’ says d’Arcy.

To accomplish this goal, young children (3-4 years old) will be monitored for 5 years. Both children and their parents will be wearing a microphone for 8 hours a day for two weeks, four times a year. This will allow the researcher to see how their language changes over that course of time and how it shifts in relation to their peers and caretakers.


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Why Bilinguals Are Smarter


Scientist have recently found more benefits of being bilingual than just the advantage of being able to communicate with a wider range of people. In a recent study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee (2004) bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle. The findings showed that the bilinguals were quicker at performing this task. Another similar study in 2009 by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth were compared with peers raised with one language. The results were similar to the 2004 study. The babies exposed to a bilingual environment quickly learned to switch their anticipatory gaze in the new direction while the other babies did not.

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Too smart to learn a new language.


Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, together with a group of neurologist and psychologist found evidence that having developed cognitive skills can, indeed, be an obstacle for adults when trying to learn a new language. According to the study, “when learning certain elements of language, adults’ more highly developed cognitive skills actually can get in the way.” Children are better skilled at picking up  subtle nuances of a new language, which gives them the ability to speak a new language like a native speaker within months of living in a foreign country. While adults only focus on learning the vocabulary needed to navigate a shopping market or order food in a restaurant.

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Bilingualism and Cognition


Assistant Professor Yang Hwajin from Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Social Sciences conducted studies on bilingualism and cognition. In one study Professor Yang found that low socioeconomic status children who spoke two languages performed better in behavioural tests than monolingual. Similar results where found in another study which involved infants of low socioeconomic status. Bilingual infants from low socioeconomic status displayed a greater cognitive development than monolingual infants of the same status.This can demonstrate that bilingualism could help the development of children in deprived environments.

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Hong Kong twin study


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.

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Advantages as a Bilingual


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.

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Learning a new language can strengthen your brain


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.

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