Benefits of Bilingualism

Brilliant post that explains some of the benefits of bilingualism. They include;

1. A conscious approach can help you clean up your writing and your speech and help you communicate more clearly.

2. Bilingual individuals can pick out a speaker’s voice easier

3. Develop creativity because learning a second language improved speakers’ planning, cognitive flexibility, and working memory, three pillars on which creativity is built.

4. Patients who spoke more than one language had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years after their monolingual counterparts.

and finally

5. Make smarter decisions as people thinking in a foreign language were more likely to consider a question more slowly and analytically than in their native language 

Really interesting thanks to for this story.

Recent research suggests that learning a new language, at any age, not only will enhance your next vacation or better prepare you for an upcoming business trip, it can also make you a better listener, boost your creativity, spur brain growth, and for some people, even delay Alzheimer’s.

Each of these benefits stems from the various ways that language learning improves your brain’s ability to focus. Learning a language physically changes your mind, ultimately making you a stronger, more creative thinker. Here are five reasons why you should start learning a foreign language right now:

1. To improve your communication skills. The key here is consciousness. While most of us rarely think about the grammatical structures of our native tongue, learning a second language brings them into stark relief. When attempting to write or speak in a second language, you suddenly have to focus more on the order of words, your verb tenses, and parts of speech. And in recognizing how sentences are constructed in a second language, you can become more aware of how they’re arranged in your first language. That more conscious approach can help you clean up your writing and your speech and help you communicate more clearly.

2. To become a better listener. A study at Northwestern University showed that bilingual individuals could better pick out a speaker’s voice amidst distracting noises. This superior “attention, inhibition, and encoding of sound,” as the researchers put it, can help you better focus on what a client, boss, or employee is saying. The ability to listen closely is a valuable skill that can translate into a real dollar value. Look at IKEA, which attributes its record 2012 revenues and growing appeal in part to its ability to listen to customers and then respond accordingly.

3. To boost your creativity. Every time you speak a second language is an exercise in creativity. While words in your native language might string themselves together naturally, requiring little effort on your part, constructing sentences and meaning in a second language often requires more conscious thought. A study published last year found that learning a foreign language enhanced people’s fluency, elaboration, originality, and flexibility, the four scales measured by the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Researchers concluded that learning a second language improved speakers’ planning, cognitive flexibility, and working memory, three pillars on which creativity is built.

4. To sharpen your mind. Learning a second language can beef up your brain’s executive control center — the hub that helps manage your cognitive processes. A second language offers a strong exercise regimen for the executive control center, ultimately making it more efficient. Bilingualism can keep this center strong even as you age. In a study of 24 million dementia patients worldwide, many of whom also had Alzheimer’s, researchers found that the patients who spoke more than one language had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years after their monolingual counterparts.

5. To make smarter decisions. A study completed last year showed that people thinking in a foreign language were more likely to consider a question more slowly and analytically than in their native language. It seems that thinking in your native tongue is often associated with breezy, emotional decision-making that reveals natural biases. But when considering the same problem in a non-native tongue, subjects in the study demonstrated “enhanced deliberation” based more on cold hard logic. So the next time you have to make a big decision, you might get a better outcome if you consider it in a language other than your own.

As a language learner, you’ll not only become a more conscious thinker and listener who can communicate clearly and think creatively, but you’ll also gain the most significant benefit of multilingualism: a broader, more global perspective. Each of the five benefits outlined above show that learning another language really does reshape the way we think, helping us better empathize and communicate with customers, partners, and employees by adopting, through language, a new way to see the world.

Speech Translation Technology moves forward

Going back a few years John talked about being able to talk to people from all different languages like in Star Trek. At the time it seemed so far fetched that most thought it was not a possibility, and often their lack of foresight hindered his vision. He wanted to be able to speak in English yet the people to understand in their home language. As teachers this would be so invaluable when we have new arrivals to our classrooms.  We haven’t time to wait for an interpreter or translator to arrive, most schools do not have the finances to have a qualified teacher who is also a native speaker so cheaper and simple solutions are sought daily as people move around globally more now than ever.

It is really good to see that Microsoft are nearer to this goal than ever before.  The good stuff it at around 7.05 where he speaks in English and out comes Chinese

As Dr. Rashid’s post explains in detail, this demo is less of a breakthrough than an evolutionary step, representing a new version of a long-established combination of three gradually-improving technologies: Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Machine Translation (MT), and speech synthesis (no appropriate standard acronym, though TTS for “text to speech” is close).

In 1986, when the money from the privatization of NTT was used to found the Advanced Telecommunication Research (ATR) Institute in Japan, the centerpiece of ATR’s prospectus was the Interpreting Telephony Laboratory. As explained in Tsuyoshi Morimoto, “Automatic Interpreting Telephone Research at ATR“, Proceedings of a Workshop on Machine Translation, 1990:

An automatic telephone interpretation system will transform a spoken dialogue from the speaker’s language  to the listener’s  automatically  and simultaneously. It will undoubtedly be used to overcome language barriers and facilitate communication among the people of the world.

ATR Interpreting Telephony Research project was started in 1986. The objective is to promote basic research for developing an automatic telephone interpreting system. The project period is seven-years.

As of 1986, all of the constituent technologies had been in development for 25 or 30 years. But none of them were really ready for general use in an unrestricted conversational setting, and so the premise of the ATR Interpreting Telephony Laboratory was basically a public-relations device for framing on-going speech technology research, not a plausible R&D project. And so it’s not surprising that the ATR Interpreting Telephony Laboratory completed its seven-year term without producing practical technology — though quite a bit of valuable and interesting speech technology research was accomplished, including important contributions to the type of speech synthesis algorithm used in the Microsoft demo.

In the 26 years since 1986, there have been two crucial changes: Moore’s Law has made computers bigger and faster but smaller and cheaper; and speech recognition, machine translation, and speech synthesis have all gotten gradually better.  In both the domain of devices and the domain of algorithms, the developments have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary — the reaction of a well-informed researcher from the late 1980s, transplanted to 2012, would be satisfaction and admiration at the clever ways that familiar devices and algorithms have been improved, not baffled amazement at completely unexpected inventions.

All of the constituent technologies — ASR, MT, speech synthesis — have improved to the point where we all encounter them in everyday life, and some people use them all the time. I’m not sure whether Interpreting Telephony’s time has finally come, but it’s clearly close.

In any case, the folks at Microsoft Research are at or near the leading edge in pushing forward all of the constituent technologies for speech-to-speech translation, and Rashid’s speech-to-speech demo is an excellent way to publicise that fact.

What is bilingual education – research

As I have posted the other two papers I though that posting the first one that discusses what bilingualism is may be useful as a starting point to discussion particularly for new teachers.


What is bilingual education and what purposes does it serve? This paper aims to introduce bilingual education and clarify why there are such diverse patterns of languages used in education. Although education in only one language is taken for granted in some regions of the world, there is still the question of what purpose it serves. In other regions bilingualism or multilingualism is more common, resulting in different types of bilingual education. Language education reflects largely unstated government policies, mainstream cultural values, and minority group aspirations. Their diverse aims result in monolingualism or various types of bilingual education in school systems around the world.
This paper briefly introduces bilingual education and various purposes behind it. Then a second paper will show how various school systems in Japan and the world can be analyzed into types of bilingual education. Weak or strong forms of bilingual education will be distinguished in terms of bilingual outcomes among students. Finally, a third paper will take a pedagogical approach, offering lesson plans to guide non-native speakers of English in doing the analysis themselves. Ten realistic cases of school systems in Japan and the world will be presented for analysis. A worksheet for students to construct a paragraph will add further criteria to decide the type of bilingual education. Utilizing the list of ten varying aims of bilingual education in this paper, and the chart of ten types of bilingual education detailed in the second paper, by completing the convenient worksheet with ten items in the third paper, the ten cases or any other school system in the world involving different languages can be analyzed according to established criteria in the discipline of bilingualism.
Key words: bilingual,multilingual, monolingual, assimilation, minorities, education

Understanding Bilingual Education 1. Analyzing Purposes of Bilingual Education (This paper) 2. Analyzing Types of Bilingual Education (coming soon) 3. Analyzing Cases of Bilingual Education (coming soon)


Introduction to Bilingual Education

Bilingualism is the study of languages in contact, typically in situations where people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds share the same space. Bilingualism was analyzed into four levels in another paper: individual, family, societal, and school levels (McCarty, 2010b). Bilingual education is bilingualism at the school level. It is not to be confused with bilingual child-raising (Pearson, 2008; McCarty, 2010a), such as speaking two languages to an infant systematically at home, which is bilingualism at the family level. Bilingual education should involve teaching in two or more languages in a school, that is, more than one language as the medium of instruction for students to learn regular school subjects.

However, other levels of bilingualism, including their cultural dimensions, do influence bilingual education. All people have a cultural identity and a linguistic repertoire, the languages they can use to some extent. Grosjean (1982) explains that “language is not just an instrument of communication. It is also a symbol of social or group identity, an emblem of group membership and solidarity” (p. 117). As a result, the attitudes people have toward different languages tend to reflect the way they perceive members of the other language groups.

Furthermore, languages have a relative status or value as perceived by the majority of a society. Languages are regarded as useless or attractive according to the economic power or cultural prestige attributed to them by the mainstream of a society, which tends to privilege national or international languages. Native languages of children of immigrants may seem to be of no use, and tend to be disregarded, while languages that are valued by the mainstream society tend to be used in education. However, Sweden has offered educational support in 100 languages (Yukawa, 2000, p. 47), while Japan’s limited support has been nearly all in the Japanese language. This shows that it is not a matter of wealth but of the dominant way of thinking in the nation. The contrast in treating minority students can be as stark as a choice between assimilation and multicultural policies (Grosjean, 1982, p. 207).


Various Purposes of Bilingual Education

There are “varying aims of bilingual education” because it “does not necessarily concern the balanced use of two languages in the classroom. Behind bilingual education are varying and conflicting philosophies and politics of what education is for” (Baker, 2001, p. 193). These different purposes then lead to various actual school systems of monolingual or bilingual education. Ten typical aims of bilingual education were cited by Baker:

Varying Aims of Bilingual Education
  1. To assimilate individuals or groups into the mainstream of society.
  2. To unify a multilingual society.
  3. To enable people to communicate with the outside world.
  4. To provide language skills which are marketable, aiding employment and status.
  5. To preserve ethnic and religious identity.
  6. To reconcile and mediate between different linguistic and political communities.
  7. To spread the use of a colonial language.
  8. To strengthen elite groups and preserve their position in society.
  9. To give equal status in law to languages of unequal status in daily life.
  10. To deepen understanding of language and culture. (adapted from Baker, 2001, p. 193)

As can be seen from the above list, there are many and diverse purposes for conducting school programs that are called bilingual education, according to the way of thinking of decision makers in different cultures. Grosjean summarizes how implicit government policies affect the languages used in education: “Depending on the political aims of the authorities (national or regional), some minority groups are able to have their children taught in their own language, while others are not” (1982, p. 207). “If the government’s aim is to unify the country, assimilate minorities, or spread the national language, more often than not minority languages will not find their place in education” (p. 207). Whereas, “if a society wants to preserve ethnic identities, give equal status to all languages and cultures in the country, revive a language, teach a foreign language more efficiently, or make its citizens bilingual and bicultural, it will often develop educational programs that employ two languages and are based on two cultures” (p. 215).


Conclusion to the First Paper on Bilingual Education

As Grosjean identifies the key issues above, the concerns of bilingualism researchers and practitioners shine through. A society may be judged by how it treats its minorities or protects the human rights of its vulnerable members. Some purposes for selecting languages to use in education may be better than others from both ethical and pedagogical perspectives. In any case, analyzing the diverse purposes behind the languages that appear in schools can deepen the understanding of resulting educational systems in the world, and possibly suggest improvements in terms of bilingual education.

Are we Speaking the Same Language?

As a new teacher I found my first job in a multicultural school, it was mainly Greek Cypriot with some Asian languages.  I was initially concerned as although I spoke English with a smattering of Welsh my Greek, Turkish and Urdu were non-existent. I was worried, but my Headteacher was very clear that whilst all languages were celebrated the language for teaching and learning was English.  There was no debate and everyone adhered to it…surprising for teenagers …they tried to push the boundaries but not on this front.

This question is similar but relates to the world of work, and the same really applies.

I supervise a team of bilingual employees.  They were hired in part due to their language skills, as our company has found our customers require services in English and Spanish.  I am not bilingual in Spanish.   My employees often speak Spanish with each other for both social conversations and business matters.  This prevents me from being able to understand their conversations.  I would like to think this is not done specifically to exclude me, but I do not believe that to be the case. Sometimes when I leave the ‘floor’ after a talk with the employees about work issues, the conversation is all Spanish. How should I handle this situation?  Should I acknowledge this at all?  What is the standard etiquette in work places for bilingual people?

A.  As the work place continue to become more global, more languages will be used in corner offices, conference rooms,  golf courses,  men’s and women’s rooms – all the places business is conducted.  And you will have skills managing multi-lingual employees which can serve you well in your career, or not, depending on how you handle this situation.
Some people worry that people speaking another language around them may be talking about them – in a derogatory fashion.  And I am sure sometimes they are, which they would anyway (in any language) once people are out of earshot.  Most often they are not, and are focused on work, or returning to a conversation they had been involved with prior to someone’s arrival.  You may share this fear, coupled with a concern your work group is excluding you.  Are they giving you other indications of excluding you?  Your relationship can be strengthened so you feel more confident about their respect for you and the expertise you bring to the work team.

You have a great opportunity to acknowledge the value your staff brings to the success of the company because of their language skills.  You can also let them know you envy the fact that they speak a second language spoken by so many, and their ability to transition from one language to another based on customer need. This recognition of another language as a significant asset can be the first step in strengthening your relationship with your team. Do not let this issue become a “you” vs. “me” issue.  As a leader you can determine the etiquette of employee behavior with their input, by focusing on the shared goals of customer service, comfort and effective employee teamwork.

If an English speaking customer is being supported, or there are non-Spanish speaking staff in the area, English should be spoken by as many people as possible.  If Spanish is being spoken, the same can happen. If you are in the area, English should be spoken so that you are welcomed into the conversation, and you can offer expertise and support to work related issues. Your staff can discuss the complexities of making this happen, and any obstacles they may face to maximizing customer support and colleague comfort.

You can ask for an all English speaking policy, which does nothing to support your business needs, and shows a lack of respect for some of the skills which brought your staff to your firm.  It has been done, and will continue to be done in many work places though there are much better choices.

You can embrace the diversity of language within your work group, and make the efforts to learn work-related phrases and more.  Developing your skills in this area might make you less nervous about what might be said about you, and more invested in the greater business benefit having a talented work force offers.

Gwent spend the equivalent of 31 officers wages on translation services

If Gwent are a small force and they are facing these costs how many police stations have other forces lost or not employed? Clearly they need to communicate with their suspects and need to find which are guilty to get them off our streets, but maybe they need to look at more innovative ways of talking to their suspects.  I asked John what he thought about this.

‘Maybe a change of thinking and giving the desk sergeants and beat officers the skills to talk to these suspects like using relatively cheap, yet effective hand-held devices and when there is access to a computer, Talking Tutor or Two Can Talk. With these the police officer only needs to speak English as it will translate and speak aloud in  many languages’ says EMASUK’s founder John Foxwell

‘Or’ said John Foxwell ‘by using the text translator create documents in Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Czech, Vietnamese, Turkish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Slovak, Albanian, Spanish, Latvian, Cantonese, French, Hungarian, Nepalese, German, Hindi, Italian, Portuguese, Tamil and Welsh, every day of the year, 24 hours a day instant access. This would allow innocent people to be released carefully,and speedier enrollment of suspects’.

If you are interested on finding out more you can contact John at

GWENT Police spent more than £700,000 on translators over the past six years.

The force needed to employ translators for dozens of different languages in this time, including Welsh, and spent a total of £717,493.

Translators are brought in to talk to suspects in crimes, as well as witnesses and victims.

In 2006/07, the force spent £75,225 on translators; this more than doubled the following year to £160,899 and peaked in 2008/09 at £172,247.

In November 2009, the Wales Interpretation and Translation Service (WITS) was set up, supported by the Welsh Government, other Welsh police forces and councils.

WITS finds bilingual people close to where they are needed, carries out security checks, language assessments and training and helped reduce costs to the police.

Languages translated in this time were Polish, Lithuanian, Bengali, Urdu, Romanian, Punjabi Indian, Czech, British Sign Language, Vietnamese, Kurdish Sorani, Punjabi Pakistani, Turkish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Slovak, Albanian, Spanish, Sylheti, Pashto, Latvian, Cantonese, Farsi, French, Hungarian, Nepalese, Swaheli, Algerian, Dari, German, Gujerati, Hindi, Italian, Krio, Malayalam, Portuguese, Somali, Tagalog, Tamil, Tigrinyan and Welsh

In 2009/10, the amount spent fell to £127,796, £83,529 before the introduction of WITS and £44,267 after, this fell to £95,348 in 2010/11 and £85,978 in 2011/12.

Between 2009 and 2011, Gwent Police paid a fixed rate of £36 an hour to translators.

Chief Inspector Tony Wilcox said: “All Police Forces have to comply with legal requirements to provide investigations in a language which people can understand. Without quality interpreters it  would be impossible to conduct investigations involving victims, witnesses or offenders whose first language is not English or Welsh.”

As well as languages one might expect translators to be needed for, such as Polish, French and Spanish, there was call for languages including Sylheti, spoken in North East Bangladesh, Krio, from  Sierra Leone, Tagalog, spoken by people in the Philippines, and Tigrinyan, which is spoken by people in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The force said it only kept a record of the list of languages it used translators for in 2010/11, when 41 translators were needed for 41 different languages

It’s like when I go to another town, I don’t know Spanish, I can’t talk to anyone, I have no voice.”

It’s like when I go to another town, I don’t know Spanish, I can’t talk to anyone, I have no voice.”

How would you feel if this happened to you.  Competent to speak to friends and neighbours in one area of our global world and suddenly unable to communicate on reaching another town or village.

This is an interesting news article that explores the school experiences of children and teachers who speak an indigenous language.

Intercultural Bilingual Education: a public policy priority
Research from Young Lives on the uses and attitudes towards Spanish and native languages in rural public schools was presented in Lima on 16 August, by the researcher Elizabeth Rosales. Her work explores the school experiences of children and teachers who speak an indigenous language. It is based on a language test and in-depth interviews with children, their mothers and teachers. Rosales found that although a large proportion of both the children and their teachers were highly competent in the indigenous language, Spanish was mainly used by both of them in school. Teachers used their knowledge of the indigenous language primarily to ensure that the children learned better Spanish, rather than using the children’s native language as the medium of instruction.

“Spanish is highly valued as it is useful for children to continue to higher levels of education and to find work in the future” Rosales commented. She found consistent with previous research that parents prefer not to register their children in bilingual schools and do not expect better quality from those schools. Their attitude to their own native language can be attributed to a fear that their children will be stigmatised or they will lose opportunities to become completely fluent in Spanish.

Following the presentation, Elena Burga (Director General for Intercultural Bilingual and Rural Education within the Ministry of Education) and Madeleine Zúñiga (Vice President of the Foro Educativo), lead the discussion.

Madeleine Zúñiga emphasised that indigenous children have the right to receive an education in their own language. “They have the right to learn in their mother tongue… but what about the right to learn good Spanish?” she asked.

Elana Burga confirmed that the Government has allocated more resources to schools that offer bilingual and intercultural education, and that attitudes to indigenous languages and cultures are changing. However, she acknowledged that basic public services in indigenous areas – including many health centres, police stations and the courts – do not have access to sufficient interpreters. She added that more bilingual schools, better teaching materials, better training for new teachers, are all needed in order to reach all children. “Our aim is that all children should be able to learn in both languages,” Burga said, adding for this to be achievable will require efforts not just from government, but also civil society and researchers.

Read more about the event on the Niños del Milenio website [in Spanish]
Bilingual Education in Peru: Read the policy paper by Elizabeth Rosales [in Spanish]

Ukraine v England Euro 2012

Well tonight is  a great time to write this blog.  I couldn’t believe it when I opened the door and the mail carrier had brought me a parcel from the Ukraine.  You may remember I wrote on my blog about my friend  Yuri during the Eurovision song contest, well he surprised me by sending me a present to commemorate Euro 2012.

He sent me a fridge magnet which sits proudly on my fridge, and two plates one blue and the other purple.  Can you see them in the picture below now sitting proudly on my mantlepiece over the fire. I cannot thank him enough. It leaves me with a  bit of a problem though …. I don’t know who to support tonight now so Good Luck to both teams.