Kids, Language & Brains


Rosetta Stones in a Flash -FYI

Languages, like people, have common ancestors, but the reconstruction of extinct protolanguages  can take years. New software can speed up the process to days or even hours.  

The technique, described Feb 11 (2013) online in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), uses algorithms to analyze words that share a common history and sound and then calculates their likely shared ancestry.  The researchers, at the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley, duplicated the reconstruction of 637 languages with about the the same level of accuracy as linguists achieve manually.

The Rosetta Stone, 2nd century B.C., gave the same inscription in three scripts, enabling translations.  Source:  WSJ, 2/16-17/2013.



Why We Believe What We See and Why We Shouldn’t Nessessarily

Our brains make sense of information coming from the eyes and then we know what we see. But because our brains have learned what to expect when moving through the world, the information we get is predicted by our knowledge or experience.  Scientists from a Harvard Medical School team led by Richard Born determined, on the basis of a primate study, that not one but two pathways are used to develop perception.  The first is based on relative motion; the second on depth.  Blocking the second without blocking the first led to a more complex understanding of how perception occurs and leads to decisions.  Rather than using feedback information, the study subjects relied on feed-forward information in decision-making. Actually both pathways are used simultaneously, but because the neurons fire differently, measuring them separately is essential to understanding how the two combine to create vision.  Born thinks these findings will not be limited to the visual system but will have an impact of the understanding of what is happening at higher levels of the brain.  Elizabeth Cooney Brain in the News, October 2015.



Language Learning Is a Process 2

Some useful language facts:  1)  We say 2nd languages, not foreign languages.  As children learn about other cultures and their language(s), they begin to understand how people express their ideas and their way of seeing (interpreting) the world according to the set of patterns in the language they speak.  Children do this kind of mental stretching easily and it helps them prepare for living in an increasingly diverse world.  2) There really are "windows of opportunity" for language learning and that's why childhood (birth to 10-12 years of age) is considered an optimum time, a natural period, for acquiring 1st and 2nd languages.  3)  The "windows of opportunity" never completely close, a fact well supported by research that offers good news for adolescents and adults.  But learning 2nd languages past puberty does demand more effort than young children require for their relatively easy acquisition patterns.             4) Beginning a 2nd language before fully learning one's native language and grammar helps rather than hinders learning the 1st language well.  1st and 2nd languages acquired by young brains are stored together.  Adolescent and adult learners store the 1st and 2nd languages separately, an explanation for why the thought process behind hearing/responding in a 2nd language can sometimes seem tediously slow.  5)  That said, learning a 2nd language is an excellent brain activity for adults eager to keep their minds sharp.  Highly stimulating to neuron growth and synapse connectivity, it is exactly what our aging brains need to stay young!


Language Learning Is a Process 1

Whether learning a first language or adding a 2nd language, the process requires plenty of listening/repeating time. With one language in place, adding another is easier, especially with direct exposure.  Listening experiences help reinforce the development of excellent pronunciation and comprehension.  Access to programming in Spanish is quite easy to find these days, but similar access to other languages is more challenging.  Building a small listening library or better yet, a listening/viewing library with CD's and DVD's is an excellent way to provide good 2nd language opportunities.  Children enjoy learning that engages their imagination.  Songs, poems, riddles, sayings and stories serve them especially well by helping them develop vocabulary while building strong pronunciation and intonation skills.  Stories they already know in their mother tongue, for example, are lots of fun to encounter in the target language they're aiming to acquire.  With the story line already well in mind, they can focus on the new words and expressions that make a familiar story come alive for them in a fresh, new way.


Found in Translation

Baseball is big in Central and South America, and so naturally the best players are scouted and hired by teams from the North.  To make that work for them, the Florida Marlins and some other teams took on one more coach, Lyette Nadal, a professor of Spanish at Northwood University.  Her task was to tutor the Spanish-speaking players in the minor leagues so they'd be prepared for the majors and the many challenges of English.  Some of her students have been Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujols, Javy Lopez and Alex Gonzalez. When Alex Gonzalez hit the walkoff home run in 2003 to even the World Series with the New York Yankees, she knew he was going to be put to the ultimate test:  a live interview on nation-wide TV. She'd been there before at the triumphant end of the 1997 World Series when the Marlins' Cuban pitcher Livan Hernandez responded to every question with "I love you Miami!"  Not exactly a great recommendation for her teaching. Alex Gonzalez passed the test with flying colors.  A hard-working student who'd ask for extra homework assignments, he was fearless and fielded every question without hesitation.  She had a proud moment when he said "I just wanted to put it in play" speaking of his battle with pitcher Jeff Weaver.  "He threw a sinker and I hit it."  On Sports/Sam Walker, WSJ.