Archive for January, 2010

Cognate Advantage

This article caught my eye today. It’s published in Psych Science and looks at the effects of L2 on L1. Often, studies of sequential bilinguals look at the effects of L1 on L2, but here the investigators examined reading effects of L2 on L1. Specifically, participants were young adults (college students) who were native speakers of Dutch. They spoke (and read) English as a second language. They were asked to read passages in Dutch while investigators tracked their eye movements. What’s really cool about eye-tracking studies is that they offer a “window” into how a person is processing information. If they allocate a lot of attention to something it might be because they need extra time to decode or process. If they spend less time on something it’s likely because they were able to assimilate that information quickly. Read the rest of this entry »

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Starting and Building a Second Language

We have a fairly new article accepted for publication in the International Journal of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Even though it’s not yet published it’s available through the Journal’s forthcoming articles list.

As part of an NIH funded project, we screened about 750 children (actually we now have screened 1200 kiddos, but when we wrote the article were still in the process of screening so the analysis is based on the numbers to that point–still it’s a lot of kids). We developed a screener based on the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment that we’d previously worked on. The screener is called the Bilingual English Spanish Oral Screening (get it? get it??).  It takes about 15-20 minutes to give in both languages (compared to the full version of the test this is about 1/4 of the time). The BESOS includes morphosyntax and semantics sections. If you want to know more about the development of the BESA (from which the BESOS is derived see here and here for morphosyntax; and here for semantics. (And yes, the BESA (but not the screener) includes phonology and pragmatics).

Anyway, in this study we gave the screener to all the kids regardless of whether they thought they didn’t know English or Spanish. Children were preschool and kindergarten age (between 4;6 and 5;6). We did stop testing a subsection if they gave us no response to 5 items in a row (we’re not totally cruel, it’s just that sometimes kids know more than they think– more than their parents and teachers think too!). We were interested in seeing what factors were associated with knowing something, anything in a language. We also wanted to know what factors were associated with higher scores. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bilingual Haiti

Haiti is on everyone’s mind in the last few days due to the devastating earthquake. As you know there are relief efforts on-going. The immediate need is in medical personnel, food, medical supplies, and shelter. Long term they will need to rebuild infrastructure in the country. If you have not already done so please consider donating to the relief. CNN has a listing of highly rated charities here.

What you may not know is that Haiti is officially bilingual. The two official languages are French and Creole. Here is some information about the languages of Haiti:

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Can’t Win

A story yesterday in the Valley News reported on a debate between Riverside County board of supervisors and a local resident about use of federal stimulus funds to provide Spanish language literacy classes to Spanish speakers. Besides the assumption made by this person–that the people taking these classes were illegal immigrants– (yeah, like they have time to take night classes), he questioned the focus on Spanish-language literacy as a bridge to English literacy. This is a valid question, but the answers should come from data not from feelings or assumptions. What are the facts? Read the rest of this entry »

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Beyond Language

 I read a very interesting article today in the NY Times. To me this work emphasizes how and what is communicated in different languages. It’s not just about knowing the words to say in another language (although that’s critical too). It’s about the experiences that makes us who we are as individuals and as part of a community.

The language we use reflects our knowledge about how to say things. It involves the semantics, grammar, and pragmatics of the language we learned. And while we often focus on differences in words and grammar across two languages I think that often that cross-linguistic pragmatics is overlooked in that context. That’s not to say that it’s not thought about– it is. But, it’s usually thought about separately from words and grammar. In fact there is a rich literature (probably in some cases more well-established literature) on cross-cultural differences. Check out West-Ed’s publications for some very practical applications. So, how does it all come together?

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