Kids, Language & Brains

26Jun/15Off

Mexico Confronts Bilingual Challenge

Buenos días.  Gui Xatsi.  So begins another day at a public bilingual school in the state of Hidalgo, about three hours north of Mexico City.  Mexico's indigenous people speak 62 languages that are not Spanish.  The general name for these languages is Hnahnu.  There are more than 16,000 bilingual preschools and elementary schools in Mexico.  They serve about a million students.  While about half the indigenous-speaking children attend regular schools, as many as 600,000 between the ages of 5-14 attend no school at all.  With the migration of rural people to the cities, it is vital to have the children learn Spanish while maintaining their indigenous culture and language.  A formal bilingual curriculum is in place for grades 1-4. Children in grades 5 & 6 work with materials their teachers prepare.  By the sixth grade, the children should be able to move easily between their language and Spanish.  That is, if their indigenous language is one of the fortunate 43 for which bilingual education exists.  Although it's feared these language will disappear, one point in their favor is the similarity between English and Hnahnu.  Teresa Puente, Chicago Tribune, 11/23/01.

20Jun/15Off

Revising a Spanish Dictionary

David Pharies, professor of Spanish linguistics at the U. of Florida at Gainesville and editor of the U. of Chicago's Spanish Dictionary, aims to provide users of this popular reference work with la palabra juste, or as we English speakers might say, le mot juste. Knowing one-word translations are simplistic, he and his team work hard to match a connotation to a particular situation.  One thing that startles is the quantity of new words borrowed from English.  These include all kinds of computer terms.  Prof. Pharies doesn't believe this extensive assimilation of English terms hurts Spanish at all.  He looks to English and the vast number of foreign words it has absorbed as a sign of strength.  For the hispanohablante, some key examples to note: escaner/scanner, sitio web/web site, en linea/online, motor de búsqueda/search engine, navegador/browser, chat/chat room.      Mara Mills, Chicago Tribune, 8/29/02

13Jun/15Off

Rethinking the Brain 2

Several researchers particularly interested in children's language learning have found that even very young children pick up a 2nd language easily with no signs of disrupting of the brain's facility for language-learning.  Their study tracked children in Québec who were exposed to French and another language (English, Russian, Spanish, Sign).  All the early bilingual children hit the normal developmental milestones.  The conclusion:  the brain can handle just about anything thrown its way, and the more early exposure it gets to 2nd languages, the better.  If the brain were hardwired, confusion or developmental delay would result. What struck these researchers was the spectacular agility of young children's brains as the developmental processes continued.  To understand the brain, we have to take into account both its intrinsic capabilities and the full power of experience to shape our mental landscape.  Carl T. Hall, The San Francisco Chronicle 11/10/02.

6Jun/15Off

Rethinking the Brain 1

Studies show the brain is wired for change.  Young children can learn two languages as well as they can learn one.  This is one of the experimental findings presented by researchers focused on the brain.  What this and other findings point to is the amazing flexibility and adaptive powers of the human nervous system.   Rather than thinking of the brain as more or less fixed at birth, brain scientists have turned their attention to what they see as a major trait: the brain's plasticity.  And although it persists in adulthood, it is a dominant characteristic of young children's brains.