4 Eye-opening Articles on Foreign Language Learning

baby eyes

Every week we find ourselves geeking out over all the amazing new information about foreign language learning that we find on the internet. If you’re like us (and we think you might be since… well… here you are), you might sometimes find this wealth of information a little overwhelming.

Not to worry, friends! Little Pim is here to help! Each week, we’ll cull the internet for our favorite language (and panda) related articles. This week, for your reading pleasure, four articles about the way language works inside the human brain:

  1. Your Mind on Language: How Bilingualism Boosts Your Brain. The title of this HuffPo blog post might say it all, but it’s a great read for anyone who wants to read about the science of language without having to wade through all the science-ese. Dan Roitman defines common scientific vocabulary associated with the study of language and also breaks down the way the brain processes language.
  2. Does Your Language Shape How You Think? You might have seen this piece in the New York Times Magazine! As it turns out, our first language may affect the way we formulate thoughts.
  3. EastEnders Effect: Watching TV Can Change Your Accent. A curious phenomenon, indeed! The cockney accent (‘ello guvna!) that features prominently in the UK soap opera EastEnders has been slowly sculpting and altering the way the Scottish accent sounds.
  4. Bilingualism Is Yoga for the Brain. A quick recap on the importance of starting early!

Until next time, read on!

Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

Why bilinguals are smarter, NYTimes

In case you haven’t already seen it, there’s a great article from the New York Times about all the benefits of bilingualism

“Speaking two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age”

Click here to read the rest of the article

Hearing Bilingual – the benefits of foreign language learning for young kids

The New York Times published an article entitled: “Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Tell Language Apart.”  The demand for foreign language education programs is growing among parents who realize both the cognitive and social benefits of their children growing up  multilingual.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Washington measured the electrical brain responses of “monolingual” infants (those from homes where one language is was being spoken) against those from bilingual households. The New York Times reported on the results:

“…the researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.”

Over the past decade, Dr Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research Professor of Psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.

These higher-level cognitive abilities are localized to the frontal and prefrontal cortex in the brain. “Overwhelmingly, children who are bilingual from early on have precocious development of executive function,” Dr. Bialystok said.

Little Pim allows families, even families who are not bilingual, to do this easily.

Read the entire article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/health/views/11klass.html?_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes

Were you exposed to multiple languages as a child? We’d love to hear your stories!

The iPad — is it good for your kids?

David Pogue’s son is six years old. He’s a musician, an amateur filmmaker and loves brainteasers. It’s not that he’s a genius, it’s just that he loves the iPad. In fact, according to his father, he’s addicted!

This was the subject of a recent blog post on the NYTimes.com, and like any self-respecting parent, Pogue (tech columnist for the NY Times) is somewhat concerned by his youngest child’s newfound infatuation with his father’s toy. He’s concerned, yes, but he’s not worried.

Pogue makes a critical point: his child uses the iPad mainly for learning purposes. He plays mostly educational and creative apps: a program that lets children create animated short movies, write their own songs, or solve challenging spatial awareness puzzles. To parents who remember a world before computers, this may admittedly feel a little foreign. But the technological devices can be an invaluable tool for educational entertainment when used in conjunction with other, non-screen activities.

There’s good TV and bad TV, so why shouldn’t electronics be the same? There’s little doubt that technology like the iPad can be interactive and collaborative, and actively encourage children to think, learn and create.

Poll: What are your rules for electronics or TV?

Kristof asks, “Primero Hay Que Aprender Espa ol. Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen.” Why not both?

Nicholas Kristof was already one of my favorite New York Times journalists*, so I was thrilled to see him taking up the topic of foreign language teaching to kids in his recent column “Primero Hay Que Aprender Espanol, Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen” (translation: First learn Spanish, then study Chinese). If you missed it, Kristof makes the case that even though we are seeing a huge increase in parents teaching their young children Chinese, parents should really be encouraging their kids to learn Spanish.

He notes that by 2050 our nation is on track to be 29% Spanish speaking and we are increasingly doing business with Latin American countries. He also makes the sobering case that more of us will be retiring to Latin America, where the living is cheaper. He says Chinese is more of a “specialty” language that will only help our kids if they become proficient and choose to work with China. which should remain in the foreseeable future one of the world’s economic super powers.

Here at Little Pim we have also seen the rising popularity in Chinese (it is our second best-selling language, neck in neck with French, after Spanish) and have noticed another trend – that more and more parents are choosing to introduce their children to TWO languages in addition to English. Thousands of parents in the United States are getting their babies and toddlers going on some combination of Chinese and Spanish or Chinese and French.

We field many calls and emails about this each week. Often parents explain that the Chinese is to give their kids what they think will be a competitive advantage in tomorrow’s economy, and the romance language is to honor a family heritage, or because one of the parents speaks that language and can help with it at home.

The benefits to kids of learning more than one language during early childhood are widely documented (it improves memory, advances verbal and math skills and analytic thinking). What about the benefits of two? Research shows that a child can learn up to three languages without any confusion. The learning results are even better if one of the languages is spoken at home, and if the languages have a different base, such as Chinese, which is tonal, and French, which is a romance language. A child will never confuse “sourire” with xiao’ or ‘笑’. But they might confuse “sonreía” (Spanish) and “sourire” (French).

Ultimately choosing a language, or languages, for your child is a very personal choice that takes into account your hopes for your child’s future (will she be part of a multi-national company someday? Will he be able to travel, work and live abroad? Can she communicate with family members who don’t speak English?). But whatever language parents choose, their children will be getting a huge advantage over their monolingual peers. Spanish is by far still the leading language being studied in the U.S., with 88% of all foreign language classes in schools in Spanish (per the Today Show – link to the home page video here?).

Picking up a THIRD language is much easier once a child has learned a second one, so rather than dwell on “Which Language is Best,” debate, parents should just dive in and know their children may make their own choice later about what language they want to learn, and it will be fairly easy for them to make that change if they have a solid base in any language.

My own sons, Emmett and Adrian, have been learning French since they were babies, because of my family connection to France (I know Spanish or Chinese might be more “useful” in their careers) but if they get to high school and decide they want to learn Chinese or Spanish I will happily let them change, and know they will have a much easier time understanding the grammar rules and acquiring new vocabulary thanks to their years of French.

What do you think? Are you considering introducing your child to two languages? Do you know people whose kids are studying Chinese and a romance language? We’d love to hear from you. Take our new QUIZ on our homepage about which language/s your child should learn, if you haven’t chosen yet.


Nicolas Kristof

*Kristof is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, who writes powerfully about pressing international women’s issues, such as inadequate maternal health care and the shameful ongoing slavery of young girls, notably in his book Half the Sky, written with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof resides outside New York City with his wife and their three children: Gregory, Geoffrey and Caroline.