Archive for November, 2009

Update on Academy of Aphasia satellite meeting on bilingual aphasia

Its been more than a month since we hosted the satellite meeting on bilingual aphasia at Boston University and here is an update. The meeting was a great success! We had about 45 attendees from across the world including Australia, China, Malaysia, Turkey, Norway, India and of course USA. Even more impressive was the number of languages that the researchers collectively represented, easily over 20 different languages. Clearly the topic of bilingual aphasia is of increasing research interest worldwide.

We are in the process of developing the new bilingual aphasia website– stay tuned to this page for information about the new URL. We will have video clips of various speakers at the meeting (Yasmeen Faroqi Shah, Nina Dronkers, Mira Goral, MJ Taintourier, Susan Edwards, Anthony Kong and Brian McWhinney) discuss what they thought were burning issues in the field of bilingual aphasia.  We also hope to develop the website into a resource site for articles on bilingual aphasia and perhaps a way for bilingual aphasia researchers to connect and network.

So, stay tuned for information about this website. Also, thanks to all the people who attended for make this event possible and a success.

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Use of the term “foreign languages”

Good morning and a happy Thanksgiving to everyone. This post is to discuss the use of the term “foreign languages”. I must confess that it is becoming a peeve of mine to read references, policy documents, and position papers containing the term “foreign languages”. What are those? Aren’t all languages foreign to someone, depending on who’s using the term?  I advocate that we use the terms “diverse languages”, “non-English languages”, or use descriptors of language families (e.g. Indo-European or more specifically Germanic, Slavic, etc). To refer to English as English and other languages as foreign seems just a wee bit Anglocentric to me and perhaps facilitates the perception that the “foreign language” is somehow a distant idea or an uncommon notion.  The truth is we in the United States represent a diverse and rich linguistic tapestry and many non-English languages are no longer foreign here.

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Regional Dialects and L2 Learners

My original intent was to write about our new article coming out in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (shameless plug I know), but this news article about L2 learners learning to distinguish spoken words by reading caught my eye.  

In the original study published in PLoS ONE the authors argue that seeing a written word in addition to hearing it helps listeners to figure out what the word is (when it’s distorted or an element is missing). This helps listeners within a language understand another regional dialect (say an American English speaker hearing Australian English or a Mexican Spanish speaker listening to Argentine Spanish). Of course some of the differences are lexical but many are about the sounds and stress patterns. 

The authors proposed that this same strategy could be used for second language learners who were used to another regional variety of that language. They had Dutch speakers who knew English watch excerpts of TV shows in Australian English or Scottish English (the participants indicated they had not spent significant time in either country). Three conditions were used: no subtitles, subtitles in English, subtitles in Dutch with half the participants watching Scottish and the other half Australian excerpts.

The Dutch participants were tested after watching 25 minutes of an episode. They listened to sentences from Scottish English and Australian English and had to repeat them.  One quarter of the sentences were from the show they had watched, 1/4 were in the same dialect, but hadn’t heard the particular sentences before, and the rest (1/2) were from the other dialect. Read the rest of this entry »

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