Kids, Language & Brains


Use It or Lose It

We're long past the view of the brain as a machine, and computer/brain metaphors are terribly limited. The brain is dynamic, neuroplastic, self-healing and far more likely to waste away from underuse than to wear down from overuse. Keeping active is the best way to resist the dangers posed by the sedentary nature of our lives.  This goes for the brain as well as the body.  A brain that loses overall plasticity, as in dementia, shrinks and loses connections. Current research points to the link between exercise, mental and physical, and the lowering of the risk of dementia. Looking for a drug capable of reducing the risk of dementia by 60%?  Here it is:  regular, vigorous exercise.  Exercise triggers growth of new brain cells and releases neurotrophic growth factors which maintain new connections and assure brain health.  For more, read Our Amazingly Plastic Brains, Brain in the News, Vol. 22 No. 2, The Dana Foundation, February 2015.


How Children Acquire a 2nd Language Part 3

Research on brain development relevant to 2nd language learning shows how we too often put the cart before the horse.  The language-learning brain is at its best in its early years (0-12) when the high energy "horse" can gallop gaily along  fully enjoying any variety of language pastures.  Once the cart is attached to a now more mature, disciplined "horse" which has acquired confidence in one or more languages, this adolescent can add all kinds of complex learning to its cart to prepare for the challenges ahead.  2nd language acquisition delayed until secondary school is rarely a recipe for success, meaning real life-long use of the 2nd language.  It makes more sense to delegate the secondary elements of 2nd language learning--practicing reading and writing skills--to the secondary school level to be honed with insight. The already-in-place primary skills of listening for comprehension and speaking with a purpose have laid a strong foundation for them.  The natural choice is to shift the focus for the development of the initial listening and speaking skills to elementary and middle school grades where they belong. 


How Children Acquire a 2nd Language Part 2

While parents readily observe how easily their younger children embrace other languages and cultures, they can't help noticing the sharp contrast with the learning experiences of their teenagers starting 2nd languages in high school.  What is fun in primary, elementary and middle school grades became a real chore in high school. Instead of being able to simply soak up another language as their younger siblings do, for most post-pubescent youngsters 2nd language learning comes at a high cost of time and effort.  Their minds just don't take in the 2nd language as easily and trying to get a good accent seems like an almost impossible obstacle. Parents recognize their own frustration with 2nd language learning mirrored in the results of their high schoolers.  They realize their older children will likely be joining the majority who say “I took _____ (fill in the pertinent language) in high school, but I never learned to speak it.”



How Children Acquire a 2nd Language Part 1

How children learn and especially how they acquire 2nd languages is a special interest.  It goes without saying that all children in this country must to be well-grounded in English.  Next, it's important to place high value on the insights 2nd languages and their cultures offer.  The languages we speak shape and reflect the ways we read the world around us.  When we know more than one language, we extend our knowledge of how the rest of the world thinks, understands, imagines.  Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) believed with every language one acquired an additional soul!

As 2nd language programs for younger children have become more available and affordable, parents have been quick to recognize their value and become their greatest boosters.   Not only are their young children full of curiosity and eager to embrace other languages and cultures, they are really good at language!  They hear the sounds so well they can imitate with astonishing accuracy.  With little effort, they quickly begin sounding like native speakers.  It's a game they excel at and enjoy playing.