Kids, Language & Brains


Children’s Mobile Games: An Easy Target for Advertisers

Just because they can't yet read doesn't mean young children can't master the intuitive touch screens on their parents' smart phones.  In fact, significantly more 4 to 5-year-olds regularly use mobile devices such as smart phones, tablets or iPod Touch than laptop computers.  So, while these children aren't exposed to the Internet nearly as much, advertisers have found the regulation-free environments of mobile devices serve them very well, better in fact than the costly ads of Saturday morning TV. Although most parents prefer to select the apps their children can access, not all of them pay much attention to how their children use the mobile devices.  It's harmless, says one parent, after acknowledging the apps succeed in making his kid crave one of the advertised candy or ice cream treats.  For a modest investment, food-industry games created for big to small companies accomplish their purpose:  They turn children into consumers who already choose to interact with certain brands.   The mobile games demonstrate how new technology is changing U.S. commerce, drawing tighter bonds between marketers and young consumers.  Anton Troianovski, WSJ , 9/18/2012.


So Many Englishes, So Many Speakers

According to the government-funded British Council, English speakers fall into three loose, overlapping groups:  375 million who are native speakers of English, 375 million who speak English as the 2nd language in their country of origin, and 750 million who speak English as a purely foreign language.  Because of much higher population growth in groups two and three, the number of English speakers is skewing globally.  American English?  A local dialect of global English! David Crystal, an English language scholar based in England, predicts the umbrella language of the 21st century will be English, with regional varieties continuing to thrive and contribute to the evolution of global English.  Crystal adds that no one really knows what will happen to English as it becomes a global language:  The history of language is no longer a guide.  Who owns English today?  No one. Everyone.  It has spread, it has multiplied, it just keeps changing. And now it belongs to the world. "The New Englishes," Ted Anthony, Chicago Tribune, 4/25/00.


Practice Makes Perfect

Call it rehearsing, call it practice, call it over learning, just don't underestimate the effectiveness or the necessity of honing skills to be reliably productive.  Tiger students, spelling-bee whizzes, and winners of high school meritocracies have one thing in common and it isn't genetics.  According to a recent analysis, while Asian students currently dominate the academic scene, their success is largely due to good habits.  They learn to work hard and they don't give up.  In fact, as we well know from observing people who succeed, they owe much to the spirit of tenacity that fuels their drive to master the skill sets they need. Then they can do whatever they do so well only others equally determined and accomplished can compete with them.  In teaching 2nd languages to children, even very young ones, we never forget how important practice is.  Making practice fun and engaging is the real challenge!



Listen, Observe, Learn, Engage

The title here is based on a point made by linguist and anthropologist, Mary Catherine Bateson, in her recent NPR interview with Krista Tippett:  On Being 10/4/15.  It's a perfect way to describe how young children relate to language and why adults should never underestimate what children are taking in, processing and preparing to make their own.  An effective method for teaching language to young children is simple:  talk to them, tell them what you're doing, let them follow you around as you carry out various tasks.  Assuming you're teaching them a 2nd language, don't bother translating what you're doing/describing in their mother tongue. Give them credit for being attentive, perceptive. Translating just clutters the scene and intrudes on their direct understanding.  Don't expect  immediate results but don't be surprised either when these formerly monolingual children put it all together and give it back in the very language you've been teaching.  Often described as sponges, young children have all the qualities needed for easy, successful 2nd language acquisition:  they really listen and observe to learn, and then they engage with enthusiasm.