How does the bilingual brain store and process two languages? Is it the same or different from how it stores and processes one?

What a lovely start to the week a story that takes me back to my roots.  Weekly readers will know that my interest in bilingualism came when I left Wales due to employment and it was strange that everything was only in 1 langauge in England as well as there were no rugby posts in the fields. Added to the fact that my child was treated as monolingual despite coming directly from a Welsh Medium school and received no support yet if children came into her classroom from abroad there was more than ample provision.

So as you can imagine this story really caught my eye and is interesting as it explores bilingualism a little more to help us all understand the process better.

Recent studies conducted both internationally and here in Wales are showing  that having two languages can impact on the child’s language development,  general abilities, and health and wellbeing in ways that are unique to the  bilingual learner.

In terms of language abilities, some of our most recent research is looking  at the effects of language structure on children’s literacy and self-esteem,  with special focus on those who are learning Welsh and English.

Other studies have looked at young German-Welsh bilinguals’ emergent  grammars, looking for examples of German influence in their Welsh, and Welsh  influence in their German.

Mapping Welsh-English bilinguals’ development of vocabulary, reading and  grammar in Welsh and in English has allowed for a better understanding of the  impact of learning a second language on children’s development of their first  language.

Our results show that learning through the medium of Irish or Welsh at school  has no detrimental effects on children’s development of English.

In fact, the act of switching between two languages and of inhibiting the use  of one language whilst using the other provides the bilingual brain with a  certain level of flexibility that the monolingual brain has to work for in other  ways.

This has led bilinguals to demonstrate superior abilities on general  cognitive tasks that require certain types of processing – an advantage that  translates well into the classroom.

Our studies here in Wales are beginning to show some interesting patterns  that contribute to these findings.

Whether this advantage is present across the life-span for all Welsh-English  bilinguals is yet to be discovered, but should it lead to the delayed onset of  dementia, as demonstrated previously for bilinguals in Canada, the  identification of how, when and where this advantage is present is all the more  worthwhile.

Enlli Thomas is a senior lecturer in Bangor University. Her research looks at  language development and bilingualism in school children in Wales. She can be  contacted at enlli.thomas@bangor.ac.uk

Read more: Wales Online http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health-news/2012/11/26/speaking-up-for-the-many-benefits-of-being-bilingual-91466-32304491/#ixzz2DJupoGQX

Keep up the research Enlli the more we understand the easier it is to help our students fit into this multilingual world.

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Research shows that Bilingual children have “an aptitude for selective attention” and an ability to filter and focus on information.

Further to the last story this from the BBC highlights the demonstrable benefits whilst challenging the sceptics view that it (bilingualism) can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them (the learners).

Bilingual children outperform children who speak only one language in problem-solving skills and creative thinking, according to a new study.Researchers set lingual, arithmetical and physical tasks for 121 children, aged about nine, in Scotland and Sardinia, Italy. They found that the 62 bilingual children were “significantly more successful in the tasks set for them“.

The study has been published in the International Journal of Bilingualism.

The Glasgow-based children spoke English and Gaelic, or English only, while the Sardinian cohort spoke either Italian only, or Italian and Sardinian.

Gaelic ‘advantage’

They were asked to reproduce patterns of coloured blocks, to repeat orally a series of numbers, to give clear definitions of words and to resolve mentally a set of arithmetic problems. The tasks were all set in English or Italian.

Researchers found that the bilingual children were “significantly more successful in the tasks set for them”.

There was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils”

 Dr Fraser Lauchlan Strathclyde University

They observed that the Gaelic-speaking children were more successful than the Sardinian speakers.

The differences were linked to the mental alertness required to switch between languages, which could develop skills useful in other types of thinking.

The study found that the further advantage for Gaelic-speaking children may have been due to the formal teaching of the language and its extensive literature.

Sardinian is not widely taught in schools on the Italian island and has a largely oral tradition, which means there is currently no standardised form of the language.

The study was conducted by Strathclyde University with colleagues from the University of Cagliari in Sardinia. It was led by Dr Fraser Lauchlan, an honorary lecturer at Strathclyde’s school of psychological sciences.

He said: “Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them.

‘Demonstrable benefits’

“Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively.

“We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.”

Dr Lauchlan said that the bilingual children were seen to have “an aptitude for selective attention” and an ability to filter and focus on information which is important.

It is thought that this may come from the “code-switching” of thinking in two different languages.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-19109883

Another story about this can be found at http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=34907

Investigation of cognitive benefits of bilingualism – Sardinian and Scottish v national languages of Italian and English

The International Journal of bilingualism

has just produced its report Bilingualism in Sardinia and Scotland: Exploring the cognitive benefits of speaking a ‘minority’ language

you can get access to it here http://ijb.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/04/12/1367006911429622.abstract

The research reports on a study investigating the cognitive benefits of bilingualism in children who speak the minority languages of Sardinian and Scottish Gaelic, in addition to their respective ‘national’ languages of Italian and English. One hundred and twenty-one children, both bilingual and monolingual, were administered a series of standardised cognitive ability tests targeted at the four areas that have been previously shown to be advantageous to bilingual children in the literature, namely, cognitive control, problem-solving ability, metalinguistic awareness and working memory. The bilingual children significantly outperformed the monolingual children in two of the four sub-tests, and the Scottish children significantly outperformed the Sardinian children in one of the sub-tests. The differences found were largely due to the superior performance of the Scottish bilingual children who receive a formal bilingual education, in contrast to the Sardinian bilingual children who mostly only speak the minority language at home. The implications of the results are discussed.

Bilingualism alive and well at the 2012 Olympics.

It never ceases to amaze me when out and about that some people, often in positions of importance, seem to miss the whole point of bilingualism altogether and just focus on ‘they must learn English’ …. whoever ‘they’ are.

No notice is taken of any prior learning and often in education then use their trump card what if they don’t write …..Tamil, Portuguese, Chinese… and think that this lets them off the hook with everything else and along their merry way they go continuing to do what they have always done and not embracing change or any other ideas.

It was therefore great to see the  2012 Olympic opening ceremony bilingualised as is the Eurovision Song contest languages are spoken alongside each other and everyone is included.  Critics are quick to point out that other languages are more common or should have been used but again it goes back to complacency and not willing to embrace change and finding the one area that it doesn’t work and hanging your hat on that. What I feel is more important is that everyone is able to communicate and be part of it together rather than being the one person in the corner who is looking on. Sadly some of my educational colleagues do not feel the same and some have argued ‘I only have 1, 2 with EAL,ELL’ and are quite happy for that child or those children to just sit and the teacher waits until they catch up  whilst teaching using often out of date methodologies.

Perhaps with the constant use of the flags and this bilingualism being televised they will start to think differently and embrace what those who speak Welsh and Gaelic and many other languages already know it is a strength not a weakness and should be nurtured.

I am not Scottish but Welsh so feel very much about the preservation of the Gaelic languages hence the interest in this recent article of news about how maths can save a dying languge with the equation to prove it. Now I am not a mathematician by all means but it is very interesting reading.

Though the truism about Inuits having a hundred words for snow is an exaggeration—they have a few dozen, at most—languages really are full of charming quirks that reveal the character of a culture. Dialects of Scottish Gaelic, for instance, traditionally spoken in the Highlands and, later on, in fishing villages, have a great many very specific words for seaweed, as well as names for each of the components of a rabbit snare and a word for an egg that emerges from a hen sans shell.

Unfortunately for those who find these details fascinating, languages are going extinct at an incredible clip—one dies every 14 days—and linguists are rushing around with tape recorders and word lists trying to record at least a fragment of each before they go. As mathematician Anne Kandler of the Santa Fe Institute notes, the only way the old tongues will stick around is if populations themselves decide that there is something of value in them, whether for reasons of patriotism, cultural heritage, or just to lure in some language-curious tourists.

Say you’ve decided your language is worth keeping. Now how do you go about it?

This is an area where mathematicians can help linguists out. Several years ago, Kandler and her colleagues decided to make a mathematical model of the speakers of an endangered language, to provide a kind of test environment for programs that encourage the learning of local languages. They chose Scottish Gaelic as a good test case, because there are more than 100 years of data on the number of speakers and their demographics. The language has had its ups and downs, most notably repeated attempts by English authorities to extinguish it after the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances. But in the last decade especially, there has been a movement to boost the numbers of Gaelic speakers, with Gaelic radio programs and Gaelic weather reports—even Gaelic playgroups for kids.

 

Read the rest at: http://discovermagazine.com/2012/jun/31-how-math-can-help-save-a-dying-language or read it below.

Kandler’s model: These partial differential equations each correspond
to a group of speakers: English, Gaelic, and bilinguals. The variables stand
for aspects of the social situation; c12 and c32, for instance,
are the likelihood that bilingual speakers will become monolingual.
Kandler et al.

The model the mathematicians built blends together numbers from all aspects of Scottish life to sketch a picture of Gaelic’s progress. Some of the numbers are obvious—you must know how many people in the population you’re working with speak just Gaelic, how many speak just English, and how many are bilingual, as well as the rate of loss of Gaelic speakers. But also in the model are numbers that stand for the prestige of each language—the cultural value people place on speaking it—and numbers that describe a language’s economic value.

Kandler’s model: These partial differential equations each correspond to a group of speakers: English, Gaelic, and bilinguals. The variables stand for aspects of the social situation; c12 and c32, for instance, are the likelihood that bilingual speakers will become monolingual.
Kandler et al.

Put them all together into a system of equations that describe the growth of the three different groups—English speakers, Gaelic speakers, and bilinguals—and you can calculate what inputs are required for a stable bilingual population to emerge. In 2010, Kandler found that using the most current numbers, a total of 860 English speakers will have to learn Gaelic each year for the number of speakers to stay the same. To her, this sounded like a lot, but the national Gaelic Development Agency was pleased: it’s about the number of bilingual speakers they were already aiming to produce through classes and programs, a spokesman told The Scotsman when Kandler’s study came out. And if more parents who speak Gaelic start passing it on to their kids, lifting the number of native Gaelic speakers, the number of new bilinguals needed could fall by half.

A new census documenting Scottish Gaelic speakers was completed in 2011. The numbers are being analyzed right now, and Kandler’s waiting on tenterhooks to see what they show.

Kandler’s model is unique to Scottish Gaelic: Quechua, Chinook, Istrian Vlashki, and so on will each need their own, taking into account their unique cultural situations. For instance, the languages of the Pueblo tribes around Santa Fe are spoken by so few people—just a few hundred at most—that by many linguists’ estimates they should have gone extinct long ago. Yet they persist. It would be fascinating to know, through further work like Kandler’s, what factors have kept such languages alive, and whether their lessons can be applied to other endangered tongues.