Kids, Language & Brains


Newborns’ Brains Wired for Speech

"From the first weeks of life the human brain is particularly adapted for processing speech," says French researcher Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, with infants' language learning and processing relying largely on the same brain circuits adults use.  Activity in left-hemisphere speech centers in newborns as young as two to five days showed higher oxygen demands and these demands increased when babies heard normal speech as opposed to silence or speech played backwards.   Already days-or weeks-old infants can distinguish the "melody" of their native language from the pitches and rhythms of other languages;  they can assess the number of syllables in a word and detect a change in speech sounds (such as ba versus ga). Because of increased activity in the back of the language-processing region and in Broca's area in the left-hemisphere, it is assumed infants may be using a memory system based on Broca's area just as adults do.  Researchers are ready to say that the precursors of adult cortical language areas are already working in infants even before babbling begins.  Faith Hickman Brynie  Brain Work July-August 2008


Waking Up to Latinas

With each passing day, anglophones in the USA are learning more about people of Hispanic origin here and elsewhere in the Americas.  In one article, these statistics stood out:  one in every five teens in the USA today is Hispanic; between 1993-2001, the general teen population grew by 8%, but the Hispanic teen population grew by 30%.  A census projection for 2020 has this latter teen population growing by 62% while the non-Hispanic teen growth will be only 10%.  Ingrid Otero-Smart, CEO of a California marketing concern, says that corporate America sees the growing numbers of Hispanics clearly but is however still slow to recognize the buying power of Latina teens.  Not only do they spend more money on make-up and clothes than do their non-Hispanic peers, they carry a lot of influence in their families when it's time to make purchases.  Chicago Tribune 8/7/02


TPR Kitchen Fun for Kids – Cooking in Spanish

Cooking is a great TPR exercise that works for kids in any language they're seeking to acquire.  The experience is fun and easy and carries a final reward:  Something good to eat when the work is done.   Demonstrating the simple steps makes them more concrete and memorable.  Everyone gains the sense of a job well done, with language acquisition easily transferable to another project.

Lime custard tartlets with berries are an easy dessert inspired by Cuban and Caribbean cuisines.  Prep time is 20 minutes; cooking time is 12 minutes. For one batch of custard for 15 tartlets:  1 large egg, 1/3 c sugar, 1/2 t of minced lime zest, 1/4c fresh lime juice, 2T unsalted butter (melted), 1 T light sour cream, 15 mini phyllo dough shells (frozen), 45 small raspberries (or other berries).

1.  Place rack in center of oven; heat oven to 375 degrees. Set aside a cookie sheet.  2.  Put egg, sugar and zest in bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium about 1 minute, until mixture is light-colored and flowing.  Add lime juice, butter and sour cream.  Mix well.  3.  Put frozen shells on cookie sheet in a single layer.  Fill each shell with about 2 generous teaspoons of custard.  4.  Bake until custard has thickened and is lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool completely.  Make several hours ahead and keep at room temperature.  5.  To serve, garnish with 3 raspberries (or other berries), rounded end up on each.  Abby Mandel  Chicago Tribune





TPR – An Invaluable Teaching Tool

With a desired focus on listening for understanding and speaking a 2nd language, two methods are especially useful:  the natural approach with its emphasis on listening and repeating to acquire the target language as we did our mother tongue, and the Total Physical Response approach which joins movement to language learning.  Although the use of commands is a familiar way to put TPR into play, it isn't the only option. Teachers can use TPR to reduce stress levels as they encourage children's engagement in realistic and challenging activities.  Children using TPR really communicate as they learn by doing.   A good source for more information on this approach is TPR Is More Than Commands, 2nd ed. 1998,  Seely & Kuzenga Romijn.