Kids, Language & Brains


Out of the Mouths of Babes

Initially, the Nazis failed to recognize the subversive nature of puppet theatre in Czechoslovakia, seeing it as too childlike and in a foreign language to be taken seriously.  Once they did figure it out, however, they not only arrested puppeteers but some puppets as well, according to Nina Malikova, the Czech co-curator of an exhibit shown at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. Entitled Strings Attached:  The Living Tradition of Czech Puppets, it was a collaboration between the museum, Ohio State University and the Arts and Theatre Institute of Prague.

According to Joseph Brandesky, professor at Ohio State and specialist in Czech and Russian theatre, Czechs have used puppetry, beginning in the Renaissance, to entertain as well as to preserve and extend their national culture and language, especially when facing oppression by occupying powers.   Whether Hapsburgs, Germans or Soviets,  these occupiers underestimated the relevance and potency of puppet theatre.

Always popular in the Czech Republic, puppetry has gained international status through  the work of such puppeteer-animators as Jan Svankmajer whose legacy is apparent in the films of Tim Burton and others.  Source: Kevin Nance, Wall Street Journal, 3/2-3/13.



Spanish for Home Schoolers

Looking for a way to offer your home school students access to Spanish?  It's not so difficult. First, unless your Spanish skills are excellent, don't even think of teaching the class yourself. With so many qualified and well-educated Spanish speakers available, give your kids the best exposure possible. Second, make sure to create a class.  Small classes are fine but try for around eight to ten students. Why?  Language is a social skill that blooms in the doing!  To limit class size to just your own children reduces their opportunities to activate and practice new language skills.   Finally,  find a low cost but high quality program, like the one at Language, that works  well in different settings and with a variety of audiences.  As adults we know 2nd language learning isn't a game, but we also know children love to play. Programs taking advantage of this natural inclination produce good results and lay strong foundations for long-term learning and appreciation of the Spanish language and its multilayered cultural heritage.


Finding Your 2nd Language Parent

Chris Lonsdale's TedX session,, on 2nd language acquisition for adults, entitled the Go Soak Your Head post below, makes a great case for finding a 2nd language parent to help you, the adult learner and children too, for that matter, wanting to acquire a 2nd language more quickly and with less stress.  He lays out four "rules" that characterize the ideal 2nd language parent:  Someone who will work to understand what you are trying to say.  Like any good parent, this person aims to encourage your efforts. Someone who doesn't correct your mistakes.   Making mistakes goes with the territory. Anyone afraid, made afraid, of making mistakes will never get to the finish line.    Someone who confirms understanding by using correct language.  And don't underestimate body language; it's a big part of how we communicate.    Someone who uses words you know. Communication is the goal and it's easier to get there when you and your "parent" share the vocabulary.  Find the right 2nd language parent and you'll see the process of acquiring that 2nd language become much more efficient and far less aggravating!


Go Soak Your Head! 2nd Language Learning: Children vs. Adults, Round III

A friend mentioned a YouTube presentation,, on 2nd language acquisition for adults where what the presenter, Chris Lonsdale, calls head soaking is a key component of the process.  This is another way of saying that maximizing exposure, a realistic option for adults in charge of their own timetables, workloads, etc., can lead to acquisition of the much desired 2nd language within a very efficient time frame. Because children don't have the same freedom, their opportunities for real immersion, aka head soaking, depend on choices made for them. Adults can travel, literally or virtually, to a country where the language they want to learn is spoken.  They can focus on content relevant to them, use the language to communicate from day one, recognize and apply physiological principles related to hearing and speaking, maintain and grow their enthusiasm for acquisition of their 2nd language of choice.   His point, tested personally, is that learning a 2nd language as an adult is far from impossible.  In fact it is as doable as the adult's levels of motivation and commitment to the process will allow it to be.  



Your Child’s Brain

Before there are words in the newborn's world there are sounds.  When an infant hears the same sounds over and over, neurons from his ear stimulate the formation of dedicated connections in the brain's auditory cortex.  This formation is what Patricia Kuhl, University of Washington, calls the perceptual map.  Researchers find evidence of these tendencies across many languages.  Children become functionally deaf to sounds absent from their native tongue.  The map indicates that year-old infants have lost the ability to discriminate sounds that are not significant in their native language and their babbling has acquired the sound of their mother tongue.  Once they've developed their particular perceptual maps, constraints on the learning of second languages are already in place.  In other words, if the brain circuits are now already wired for Spanish, the remaining undedicated neurons have lost their ability to easily form new connections for another language.  Her work also suggests why it is easier to learn related 2nd languages, such as Spanish and French, than unrelated ones:  Existing circuits can do double duty.   The source for this information is  Sharon Begley, Newsweek, 2/19/96.