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October 11, 2013

Science & Research

Toddler brain scan gives language insight

brain-scan.jpgThe BBC reports on some recent scientific research findings related to language learning in the early years of childhood.

The brain has a critical window for language development between the ages of two and four, brain scans suggest.

Environmental influences have their biggest impact before the age of four, as the brain's wiring develops to process new words, say UK and US scientists.

The research in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests disorders causing language delay should be tackled early.

It also explains why young children are good at learning two languages.

The scientists, based at King's College London, and Brown University, Rhode Island, studied 108 children with normal brain development between the ages of one and six.

They used brain scans to look at myelin - the insulation that develops from birth within the circuitry of the brain.

To their surprise, they found the distribution of myelin is fixed from the age of four, suggesting the brain is most plastic in very early life.

Any environmental influences on brain development will be strongest in infanthood, they predict.

This explains why immersing children in a bilingual environment before the age of four gives them the best chance of becoming fluent in both languages, the research suggests.

Read the full article from the BBC.

Photo: The left hand side of the brain has more myelin (Baby imaging lab/Brown University).

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September 18, 2013

Online | Linguistics

Watch British Council seminar: 'The power of accents in the 21st century'

British CouncilThe British Council's latest seminar recording is now available to watch on the EnglishAgenda website. In 2013 Britain, the clipped vowels of the ‘Queen’s English’ may no longer rule the radio waves (in fact, even the Queen herself has brought her accent up to date) but accents still shape the ways we think about other people and ourselves. What are the current attitudes shaping our linguistic landscape?

Accent & Dialect coaches and authors of Collins’ 'Work on Your Accent', Sarah Shepherd and Helen Ashton give you the chance to learn some of the techniques they use to help actors change their accent for a role; and show you that the course of your life can be shaped not only by the way that you speak, but also by the way that you listen.

Watch the seminar recording on the British Council website.

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August 29, 2013

Science & Research

Cambridge English research funding available

cambridge-english-logo.jpgCambridge English Language Assessment is currently accepting applications for funding proposals for research projects to be carried out in 2014.

Every year the organisation makes funding available for various research projects to be conducted during the following calendar year. Educational institutions and suitably qualified researchers are invited to apply for funding to undertake research in relation to the Cambridge English range of examinations and teaching qualifications. The deadline for applications is 1 October.

Funded projects are typically supported up to a maximum of UK£15,000.

Areas of interest:

  • Test validation
  • Contexts of test use
  • Test impact
  • Learning-oriented assessment

Read more from Cambridge English.

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August 01, 2013

Linguistics

Using the SaypYu project for English teaching ideas

saypyu-logo.jpgAn interesting article posted recently on the Macmillan English Campus website suggests ways of using the SaypYu project as the basis for some English teaching ideas.

A recent article in the Telegraph led me to discover an intriguing collaborative project called SaypYu, whose aim is to create one global alphabet combining all sounds in every language in the world, to standardize spelling and pronunciation. SaypYu stands for Say as you pronounce Universal project, and the website explains their aim to create this global language which will one day be used all around the world.

This poses an interesting question for language students, especially those of English, whose pesky pronunciation and unpredictable spelling “rules” can be troublesome for foreign learners. Why not introduce the SaypYu project to your students and create a lesson based upon it? Below are a few ideas:

Read the full article from Macmillan English Campus.

The SaypYu project website.

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July 26, 2013

Linguistics

How many hours does it take to be fluent in English?

learning-EnglishThe best answer might be "How long is a piece of string?" but with an increasingly mobile global populace this is an interesting question nonetheless.

Immigrants are always being told by politicians to learn the language. But how long does it take to speak good English?

There are plenty of people in the UK for whom even basic English is a problem. According to the Census, 726,000 people in England and Wales said they could not speak English well, and another 138,000 said they did not speak it at all.

Ling, 40, who arrived five years ago from China, found it difficult to learn English. "When I came here I was pregnant and so I was at home for the next three years. It took me longer to learn as I was very busy with the children."

Eventually she was able to begin taking classes and now speaks good conversational English.

But even with classes, it can be a long process to pick up the language.

Read the full article from the BBC.

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July 19, 2013

Science & Research | Bilingualism

Bilingual children have a two-tracked mind

bilingual-kids.jpgIt seems that young children have an even greater capacity than previously thought to not only learn two languages simultaneously, but also learn two as easily as they can one and also keep them separated.

Adults learning a foreign language often need flash cards, tapes, and practice, practice, practice. Children, on the other hand, seem to pick up their native language out of thin air. The learning process is even more remarkable when two languages are involved.

In a study examining how bilingual children learn the two different sound systems of languages they are acquiring simultaneously, Ithaca College faculty member Skott Freedman has discovered insights that indicate children can learn two native languages as easily as they can learn one.

"At first glance, the process of learning a language can seem incredibly daunting," said Freedman, an assistant professor of speech language and pathology and audiology. "Environmental input presented at a fairly rapid rate must be mapped onto detailed representations in the brain. A word's meaning, sounds, and grammatical function all must be extracted from the incoming speech stream. Yet this potentially arduous task is typically executed with little effort by children barely a year old. In fact, studies show that children can learn a word in as little as one exposure."

But how complex is the process when a child grows up learning two languages?

Read the full article from Science Daily.

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July 18, 2013

Australia | Linguistics

A Village Invents a Language All Its Own

lajamanu.jpgA fascinating look at the recent birth of a new language spoken only by the young in a remote village in Australia’s Northern Territory.

There are many dying languages in the world. But at least one has recently been born, created by children living in a remote village in northern Australia.

Carmel O’Shannessy, a linguist at the University of Michigan, has been studying the young people’s speech for more than a decade and has concluded that they speak neither a dialect nor the mixture of languages called a creole, but a new language with unique grammatical rules.

The language, called Warlpiri rampaku, or Light Warlpiri, is spoken only by people under 35 in Lajamanu, an isolated village of about 700 people in Australia’s Northern Territory. In all, about 350 people speak the language as their native tongue. Dr. O’Shannessy has published several studies of Light Warlpiri, the most recent in the June issue of Language.

Read the full story from the New York Times.

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June 10, 2013

US | Linguistics

U.S. a country divided by a common language

us-language-map.jpgHere's what happens when tech geeks and language geeks get together: they produce fascinating visualizations of how "American English" is actually a series of dialects distributed across the continental US.

Joshua Katz, a Ph. D student in statistics at North Carolina State University, recently published a series of maps based on responses to a survey of more than 120 questions.

Based on the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes, a project carried out by Bert Vaux and Marius L. Jøhndal of Cambridge University that seeks to collect and analyse data on real-world English usage, the maps will tell you when it would be more appropriate to use "y'all" rather than "you guys" or whether you might could get away with using consecutive modals.

Click here to see the maps.

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June 03, 2013

Linguistics

Do we need the apostrophe?

Teaching-English-in-UK"Writing on the OUP blog, Oxford don Simon Horobin recently pondered the confusion and occasional condemnation surrounding use of the humble apostrophe.

The recent decision by Devon County Council to drop the apostrophe from its road signs was met with dismay and anger by those concerned about the preservation of linguistic standards. Lucy Mangan, writing in The Guardian, branded it an ‘Apostrophe Catastrophe’ which ‘captures in microcosm the kind of thinking that pervades our government, our institutions, our times’, drawing parallels with the government’s handling of the banking crisis, binge-drinking and sexual assault.

Similar prophecies of doom followed the decision by the bookseller Waterstones to drop the apostrophe from its shop names. Writing in the Daily Mail, Lindsay Johns lamented this wanton disposal of the rules of grammar which enable us to communicate. But is the preservation of the apostrophe really so crucial to the well-being of our society? Would consigning the apostrophe to the dustbin really threaten the future of our language as a means of communication?

Read the full blog post on OUPblog.

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May 24, 2013

Linguistics

New General Service List now online

To the uninitiated it sounds like some sort of bureaucratic menu, but the General Service List, first developed in 1953, is a set of 2,000 words selected to be of the greatest "general service" to learners of English. In printed form, the list is a medium-sized red book, organized like a dictionary. The list had a wide influence in English language teaching over the latter half of the 20th century, serving as the basis for graded readers as well as other material. But it has also been criticized for being based on a corpus that is considered to be both dated and, at about 2.5 million words, too small by modern standards.

With the guidance of Professor Paul Nation and approved use of the Cambridge English Corpus, Dr. Charles Browne, Dr. Brent Culligan and Joseph Phillips have worked together to created a new General Service List (NGSL) of important vocabulary words for students of English as a second language. The new list has 2,368 "word families" compared to the original's 1,964 and is based on a corpus of some 273 million words.

While still in some respects a work in progress, the NGSL is available for download free of charge, in both lemmatized and headwords-only formats, from the New General Service List website

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May 23, 2013

Science & Research

Computer research project shows shift in English language

Teaching-English"Here's an interesting one for you English language history buffs

University of Illinois English professor Ted Underwood recently wrapped up a research project involving more than 4,200 books. Since that work revealed dramatic shifts in the English language between the 18th and 19th centuries, he’s now expanding his research to include more than 470,000 books—almost every English language book written during that era and preserved in a university library.

...

He initially set out simply to confirm his hunch that the English language acquired a bit of starchiness around 1800. “There’s a very Latinate diction that sets in around that time,” he says. “I had a vague sense that written English became more formal. For example, you no longer ‘need’ something; you ‘require’ it.”

Read the full article from R & D Mag.

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May 21, 2013

Science & Research

Study shows how bilinguals switch between languages

Teaching-English"The Association for Psychological Science reports on research into how bilinguals switch between languages.

Individuals who learn two languages at an early age seem to switch back and forth between separate “sound systems” for each language, according to new research conducted at the University of Arizona.

The research, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, addresses enduring questions in bilingual studies about how bilingual speakers hear and process sound in two different languages.

“A lot of research has shown that bilinguals are pretty good at accommodating speech variation across languages, but there’s been a debate as to how,” said lead author Kalim Gonzales, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona. “There are two views: One is that bilinguals have different processing modes for their two languages — they have a mode for processing speech in one language and then a mode for processing speech in the other language. Another view is that bilinguals just adjust to speech variation by recalibrating to the unique acoustic properties of each language.”

Gonzales’s research supports the first view — that bilinguals who learn two languages early in life learn two separate processing modes, or “sound systems.”

The study looked at 32 Spanish-English early bilinguals, who had learned their second language before age 8. Participants were presented with a series of pseudo-words beginning with a ‘pa’ or a ‘ba’ sound and asked to identify which of the two sounds they heard.

Read the full press release.

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May 13, 2013

Linguistics

Research links origins of European, Asian languages

A recent article in the Guardian looks at the common roots of languages spoken across Europe and Asia.

Languages spoken by billions of people across Europe and Asia are descended from an ancient tongue uttered in southern Europe at the end of the last ice age, according to research.

The claim, by scientists in Britain, points to a common origin for vocabularies as varied as English and Urdu, Japanese and Itelmen, a language spoken along the north-eastern edge of Russia.

The ancestral language, spoken at least 15,000 years ago, gave rise to seven more that formed an ancient Eurasiatic "superfamily", the researchers say. These in turn split into languages now spoken all over Eurasia, from Portugal to Siberia.

Read the full article from The Guardian

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About Linguistics

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to ELT News in the Linguistics category. They are listed from newest to oldes.

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