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domingo, 22 de abril de 2012

How to speak like a native

Can an adult learn to speak a second language with the accent of a native? Not likely, but new research suggests that we would make better progress, and be understood more easily by our conversational partners, if we abandoned a perfect accent as our goal in the language learning process.
For decades, traditional language instruction held up native-like pronunciation as the ideal, enforced by doses of “fear, embarrassment and conformity,” in the words of Murray J. Munro, a professor of linguistics at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Munro and a co-author, University of Alberta linguist Tracy Derwing, argue that this ideal is “clearly unrealistic,” leading to disappointment and frustration on the part of most adult language learners. Indeed, a growing body of evidence points to a “critical period” in childhood for acquiring correctly accented fluency in a given language; even as research on neuroplasticity has pushed the limits of what adults can learn, this boundary has remained stubbornly in place. In light of these findings, a newer generation of adult foreign-language teachers has given up pronunciation instruction altogether, assuming it is a futile effort.
Both of these assumptions are wrongheaded, contend Munro and Derwing. Pronunciation can be learned—but it should be learned with the goal of communicating easily with others, not with achieving a textbook-perfect accent. Adult students of language should be guided by the “intelligibility principle,” not the old “nativeness principle.” As Derwing and Munro note, “even heavily accented speech can be highly comprehensible.” (In a 2009 article published in the journal Language Teaching, the two warn against the “charlatanism and quackery” of the “accent reduction industry.” Such books, tapes and classes claim to be able “to eliminate a foreign accent within specific periods of time; 28 days is a popular number,” the authors observe. “There is no empirical evidence that this ever actually happens.”)
Learners guided by the intelligibility principle focus less attention on individual vowels and consonants, and more attention to the “macro” aspects of language, such as general speaking habits, volume, stress, and rhythm. A study by Derwing and colleagues showed that this approach can work. The investigators divided subjects into three groups: the first received foreign language instruction with no particular focus on pronunciation; the second received instruction with a focus on pronouncing the individual segments of language; and the third received “global” pronunciation instruction on the general way the foreign tongue should sound. After 12 weeks of classes, the students were asked to tell a story in their new language, and their efforts were rated by native-speaking listeners. Only the global group, the listeners reported, showed significant improvement in comprehensibility and fluency.
The intelligibility principle may be behind the acknowledged effectiveness of immersion-learning programs: when we immerse ourselves in a foreign language, particularly as spoken by natives, we’re picking up more than specific vocabulary words: we’re getting the gist of how the language is spoken, and our own attempts reflect this expansive awareness. Few of us have the time or money to engage in complete immersion, but a good tip is to limit your conversational practice with other native English speakers. The speech of second language learners, research shows, tends to “converge” toward a version of the foreign tongue that is more like the speakers’ native language. Instead, seek out someone who grew up talking the way you want to talk, and practice, practice, practice. You won’t sound perfectly like a native, but the natives will understand you perfectly well.

viernes, 20 de abril de 2012

Conditions Are Perfect For Bilingual Education - So Why Is It In Decline?

Developments in social science, global trends and demographics all reinforce the significant benefits of bilingual education. Despite that, American schools show a steady decline in language programs. How can this be?

First, let's look at the conditions for bilingualism. There have always been benefits to being able to speak more than one language; recent studies show the depth of those benefits: "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."

The global economy benefits from a labor force that can transact business in more than one language, which would seem to reinforce the need for bilingual education. While English is the lingua franca of today's global economy, it is hard to argue that knowing another language is a disadvantage in today's (or tomorrow's) market. Perhaps more than ever before in American history, knowledge of language and culture is a pillar of economic achievement.

The recent American immigration increase, mostly Hispanic, has created large bilingual population. Certain school districts in major cities like Los Angeles or Houston would suggest that bilingual education is a natural evolution of our school systems.

So, with all these conditions in place, bilingual education should be pervading our public schools. It isn't. In fact, it is going in reverse: "Thousands of public schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade, according to a government-financed survey--dismal news for a nation that needs more linguists to conduct its global business and diplomacy."

There are two major factors at work that help explain why - language as a badge of national identity and cost.

Language as national identity is a precept that extends to fundamental notions of nationalism. Often, language is seen as a badge of national identity-imagine a Frenchman who doesn't speak French. While the United States does not have an "official" language, English is seen as a badge of American identity. This notion has shown up many times over the course of our history, as seen with other waves of immigration that motivated the creation of Polish, German, Dutch, Czech and Norwegian language schools in the mid 1800s. This trend was fundamentally challenged during WWI (which related to the rise of nationalism), and a new psychology of English as a proxy for "American" arose. Unfortunately, language became a binary choice - English (which equaled American) or "other." This notion continues today, and is exacerbated by the latest rise in Hispanic immigration.

The second issue is cost. With great debates occurring in American public schools on the role of teacher unions, national education standards and the need to emphasize science and math, language has fallen by the wayside.

"In January 2002, Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the Bilingual Education Act, was allowed to expire. It was eliminated as part of a larger 'school reform' effort of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (Public Law 107-110) that abolishes most efforts at bilingual education and substitutes increased funding for English language acquisition efforts. The 34-year federal effort to investigate and experiment with bilingual education at the federal level has ended. Anti-bilingual education forces have won," according to StateUniversity.com

Is there a middle ground? Title VII originated with the intent of teaching non-native speakers in their language of origin, not as a notion of teaching all Americans another language. Can the United States adopt an approach that recognizes the English imperative (which is and always has been the language adopted by our citizenry to advance in society) and recognizes the increasingly obvious benefits of knowing another language? In the short term, the prospects don't look good, and bilingual education may be yet another societal victim to unresolved immigration issues. Implications to our economic competitiveness, our ability to experience the world more holistically, and even to age with less threat of Alzheimer's is at risk.

Reconciling American identity with a large ethnic influx has always been difficult. Perhaps as cultural norms shift, largely driven by the rise of bicultural and bilingual Hispanics, the issue of expanding the brain with two languages (or more!) can shift as well, to our benefit. Espero que si.

source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-palacios/conditions-are-perfect-for-bilingual-education_b_1427361.html

lunes, 16 de abril de 2012

Why bilinguals are smarter

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.

This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.
They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.
In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin marked with a conflicting color. The bilinguals were quicker at performing this task.

The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.
Why does the tussle between two simultaneously active language systems improve these aspects of cognition? Until recently, researchers thought the bilingual advantage stemmed primarily from an ability for inhibition that was honed by the exercise of suppressing one language system: this suppression, it was thought, would help train the bilingual mind to ignore distractions in other contexts. But that explanation increasingly appears to be inadequate, since studies have shown that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals even at tasks that do not require inhibition, like threading a line through an ascending series of numbers scattered randomly on a page.

The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.” In a study comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals on monitoring tasks, Mr. Costa and his colleagues found that the bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.

The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age (and there is reason to believe that it may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life).
In a 2009 study led by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth were compared with peers raised with one language. In an initial set of trials, the infants were presented with an audio cue and then shown a puppet on one side of a screen. Both infant groups learned to look at that side of the screen in anticipation of the puppet. But in a later set of trials, when the puppet began appearing on the opposite side of the screen, the babies exposed to a bilingual environment quickly learned to switch their anticipatory gaze in the new direction while the other babies did not.

Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.
Nobody ever doubted the power of language. But who would have imagined that the words we hear and the sentences we speak might be leaving such a deep imprint?

jueves, 12 de abril de 2012

What people really want

It's no secret that everyone wants to be popular with others. You want to be liked and respected among your friends, family, and associates.
Above all, you want to like and respect yourself, and to feel yourself to be a valuable and important person. Fortunately, everything you do that makes other people feel good about themselves makes you feel good about yourself as well. You can actually improve the way you feel by making other people feel important. This is the key to great personal relationships.
The Easiest Way
The first need that each person has is for acceptance. Whenever you express unconditional acceptance of another person, his or her self-esteem goes up. The person feels valuable and important as a unique and special individual.
An Attitude of Gratitude
The need for appreciation is a deep subconscious desire of every person you meet. When you satisfy this need, you will become one of the most popular people in your world. And what is the key to expressing gratitude and appreciation? Simple. Just say, "thank you" on every occasion.
The Deepest Craving of All
Perhaps the deepest emotional need that people have is the desire for praise and approval. Each person is deeply affected by the quality and quantity of approval they get from others, especially others who they respect very much.
Looking Good
Another way to build self-esteem in others, and to make them feel important, is to express admiration on every occasion. Make it a policy to admire people for their accomplishments, behaviors, possessions, and personality traits.
Practice "White Magic"
This means practice listening closely to others when they are talking. It is one of the most powerful self-esteem building behaviors of all. Whenever you listen attentively to another, their heart rate speeds up. They feel happier and more valuable. They like and respect you more as a result. The more you listen closely to another person, the more that person feels that you are important and valuable as well.