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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Different languages force the brain to perceive reality and describe it in different manners and having a common language erases borders.

Growing up in Wales, speaking Welsh sometimes in school reading bilingual signs for what seems to be forever is what reminds me of my childhood. There was no fear just acceptance that that was the way it was. Luckily at this point I didn’t know about the Welsh not and was horrified when I learnt of it during my late teenage years and remember not understanding why we went through that process in our history.

This news item interested me because the languages that are bilingual are not commonly put together today and also in many ways it mirrors some of the facts and experiences of my childhood where Welsh and English were part of daily life. In my experience some people knew only Welsh, some only English and others were on a path between the two.

Here is the story.

Languages have always fascinated me.  From an early age I realized that different groups of people spoke different languages–and the words they used provided a window into unique worldviews.

This was because I grew up in a bilingual community in Western Kansas.  To visit Hays, Kansas, today, a person might not realize, but in the first half of the twentieth century, a majority of the population did not speak English as a native language, but rather German.  The German speakers were descendants of as group called the Volga Germans, Bavarians who had immigrated to Russia for nearly a century, and then immigrated to the Great Plains of the United States.

My family owned a lumber yard and hardware store.  All of our store clerks were bilingual in German, since most of the farmers only spoke German, and many of the contractors preferred German for their daily needs.  Although my family was also of Germanic origin — we came from Switzerland in the mid-nineteenth century — we had abandoned our language nearly a century earlier.  My father had to make do with what he called “kitchen German.”

My best childhood friend came from a German-speaking family.  Although his parents were fully bilingual, his grandparents much preferred German.  There were kids in my class who spoke a very heavily German accented English, even though they were third generation Americans. In spite of being surrounded by German, it just never found its way into the language center of my brain, except for a few stock phrases, and (sadly) swear words.

As a result of a quirk of fate, my father had begun travelling in Mexico when he was in college, in the late 1930s.  My parents honeymooned in Mexico, and in the early 1950s we began to vacation in Mexico every year at Christmastime.  As a result, from a very young age, I was also introduced to Spanish, and being a small child immersed in the language, I began to pick it up, in a manner that never happened with German for me.

Growing up in a multilingual environment was a gift to me, and certainly affected how I view the world. So it felt natural to concentrate on language during my university studies. I served as an assistant instructor of Spanish and went on to pick up Nahuatl (the Aztec language) as I studied early colonial Latin America earning my doctorate. It was an interesting challenge to learn a complex language like Nahuatl as an adult, compared to how seemingly simple it had been to pick up Spanish when I was a boy.

Growing up in a multilingual environment is very beneficial for the intellectual development of a child.  Folks used to think that if a child grew up in a multilingual home, the child would suffer from never achieving true fluency in either language, or perhaps confusing one language for the other.  Modern research has proven just the opposite.  Children keep track of languages very efficiently.  Rather than diminishing their language skills, it enhances them.  This might be because different languages force the brain to perceive reality and describe it in different manners.  This confirms the old saw: “The brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised.”

My wife and I saw this first-hand.  Our older son was raised in a bilingual environment, learning both Spanish and English from infancy.  When he was a toddler, we had great difficulty when he spoke to us in Spanish, because neither of us had learned Spanish baby talk.  Folks around us had to interpret for us.  As a Spanish teacher myself, it was very exciting to hear our son make exactly the same grammatical errors that his little friends did; errors which a native English speaker would not usually commit when learning Spanish, but perfectly in line with language development in Spanish. His Spanish skills have gone on to serve him very well in adulthood..

The study of foreign languages is simply the gift that keeps on giving.  It provides a person with multiple perspectives from which to view the world.  It actually strengthens the mind.  It allows a person to travel to other countries, which is also a great gift.  Most importantly, having a common language erases borders.  It allows one to put others at ease.

School in Devon reports its language teaching to parents

For anyone not sure how to report to parents here is an example from a school in Devon. I hope thy enter the Primary language awards this autumn, they look like worthy competitors.

http://www.moretonhampstead.devon.sch.uk/parents/reports/MFL%20Report%202012.pdf

MODERN FOREIGN LANGUAGE CURRICULUM REPORT FOR PARENTS

2011-2012

French continues to be taught weekly by Mrs Holding in Easdon, Shapley,

Mardon and Butterdon.

This term the children will be hosting a visit from a parent who is a native

German speaker. A native French speaker has already visited and took an

active part in some French sessions. The children enjoyed sharing an

afternoon with two visiting children from France this term.

The twinning link with Betton has provided a great opportunity for the children

to develop their cultural understanding and the purpose of learning French.

There has been the opportunity to correspond with the Betton children, giving

a real purpose to writing French. The more able Year 6 linguists have been

required to write more fully and act as a role model in terms of eg accent for

the other children.

The school’s assessment procedures have been developed and regular

assessment is now made on the three strands in the Framework for oracy,

literacy and intercultural understanding. This ensures that the children’s

learning is meeting their particular needs.

For the next academic year, the school plans to:

  • Develop its teaching of French phonics through a new resource called Take 10 Phonics
  • Continue to strengthen the link with Betton and use this as a meaningful learning resource.

June 2012

 

http://www.moretonhampstead.devon.sch.uk/parents/reports/MFL%20Report%202012.pdf

Paula wins again – UK

It was great to read that Paula from Priory Lower School has received more recognition for her wonderful work with German in her classroom and school. When I met her to give her the prize as winner of the Primary Language Awards German category she was teaching in the classroom, and the children were enjoying going to the shop to buy their goods in German.

She and the school were awarded this at the time because the judges said:

Priory school has developed an integrated approach to the teaching and learning of German. Using German in everyday class lessons and encouraging a wider knowledge of the language than normal methods. Activities include mental maths, this offers practical terminology that promotes real knowledge and understanding whilst helping the learners to be conversant at a higher level.

 

The involvement of the community through links with mother tongue speakers at other local schools helps the learners understand sentence structure and pronunciation plus a practical knowledge of intonation and word sounds. The children take part in external activities such as fairs with singing and games and they look forward to continuing with their language learning. It was interesting to read that the school has links with a German Partner school as it helps the learners participate in conversational German in both written and spoken form.

 

The judges felt that the school has embraced language learning through integration and the children have a mix of practical sessions and academic work combined with access to German speakers.  The school offers German to its learners who already have other languages to their repertoire, giving everyone a second common language for reference and conversation.

It is great to know that this has continued and developed further to ensure winning the Goethe-Institut’s Peter Boaks Award. Well Done.

To enter next years awards register your interest via the website www.languageawards.com or look out for it at the end half of next term.

 

To read more about Paula’s recent award http://www.teachingpersonnel.com/news/2012/7/9/teachers-recognised-for-german-contribution/

 

 

GCSE Success – UK

GCSE results for EAL students are doing well in inner London but not as well in the East of England, the North East and North West. In London English as an addional langauge learners are outperforming native English speakers by 4% points last year.

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6241719

To support these pupils EMASUK have a set of GCSE Success books.

Every child that sits their GCSE has the same battle, understanding the questions. This is even more difficult if their first language is not English, research has shown that it takes twice as long to answer questions due to the translation and deciphering of terminology. This book supports non English speaking examinees with a simple to understand booklet showing and explaining the term then giving actual exam questions to develop understanding and clarify the response.

In English, French, German, Gujerati, Somali, Polish, Chinese Cantonese, Chinese Mandarin, Hungarian, Russian, Turkish and Slovakian.

http://shop.emasuk.com/category/2617/exam_success_books