Language Capacity


Language Capacity

The language of conversation impacts on the 'synchronization' of our brains

14 February 2019 (Science Daily)

Experts from the Basque research centre BCBL have shown for the first time that the way in which the activity of two brains is connected depends on whether the dialogue takes place in the native language or in a foreign language.

As two people speak, their brains begin to work simultaneously, synchronizing and establishing a unique bond. This is what in neuroscience is called brain synchronization.

New research by the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL) in San Sebastián and published in Cortex magazine confirms that this phenomenon depends on the language we use to communicate.

The study, carried out with the collaboration of several international institutions such as the University of Toronto (Canada) and the Nebrija University of Madrid, has allowed scientists to analyze how brain wave synchrony occurs in different linguistic contexts.

Thus, experts have found for the first time that the way in which the activity of two brains becomes synchronized or similar depends on the language used in the conversation.

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Worrying decline in study of languages, warns British Academy

11 January 2018 (British Academy)

Following today’s publication by HESA of HE Student Statistics (2016/17), the British Academy has expressed concerns at a decline of student numbers choosing languages at undergraduate level. Entries for full-time and part-time undergraduate students taking languages were down 4% and 9% respectively. The British Academy is deeply concerned that this year’s decline will further reduce the already low supply of students who are qualified to go on to careers as language teachers in secondary schools.

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Language Futures – opportunities for Scottish schools

25 April 2017 (Association for Language Learning)

Language Futures aims to broaden languages provision and promote linguistic diversity. It is currently being used by schools in England to develop a second or third language both within the curriculum and during after school clubs. The programme has been trialled at a variety of levels at secondary as well as at primary across England and the Association for Language Learning (ALL) are looking to expand the scheme into Scotland.

Language Futures sees pupils choose the language they wish to study. There may be a number of languages being studied in any one classroom, with the teacher as facilitator: the teacher sets up the learning, but will not necessarily know all of the languages studied in the classroom. Pupils are supported in their language learning by mentors who are language proficient individuals from the community. The school is the base camp – it is not seen as the sole place of learning – and pupils are encouraged to learn at home and in a variety of different places. Finally, pupils design, plan and carry out extended projects which aim to build knowledge and develop skills, to incorporate language learning and inter-cultural understanding and to connect learning to the real world.

ALL would be very interested to hear from primary and secondary schools interested in piloting the approach in Scotland. Schools can sign up at no cost. ALL have created resources and guidelines to support schools and these are open access on the ALL website. If an individual school is interested, the Language Futures Project Manager would be very happy to talk them through the approach by phone, Skype etc. in the first instance. If a small group of schools was interested, ALL could explore support from a dedicated Schools Adviser who would visit schools to offer targeted support.

For further information, please contact the Language Futures Project Manager Clodagh Cooney.

Language Futures is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and has been managed by the Association for Language Learning since summer 2015.

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Lords debate on Brexit impact for HE funding and research

3 November 2016 (They Work For You)

The motion was raised in the House of Lords on 3 November 2016 that the House takes note of the potential impact of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union on funding for universities and scientific research.

During the debate, Baroness Garden of Frognal raised the importance of increasing and improving the UK's ability to communicate with the world in languages other than English following withdrawal from the EU.

The full debate can be accessed online.

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Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning

7 September 2016 (Scientific American)

The idea that we have brains hardwired with a mental template for learning grammar—famously espoused by Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—has dominated linguistics for almost half a century. Recently, though, cognitive scientists and linguists have abandoned Chomsky’s “universal grammar” theory in droves because of new research examining many different languages—and the way young children learn to understand and speak the tongues of their communities. That work fails to support Chomsky’s assertions.

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique hu­­­man ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky’s theory for guidance.

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An Infant’s Brain Maps Language From Birth, Study Says

19 November 2014 (Time)

The infant's brain retains language that it hears at birth and recognizes it years later, even if the child no longer speaks that language.

A new study reveals that an infant’s brain may remember a language, even if the child has no idea how to speak a word of it.

The finding comes from a new study performed by a team of researchers from McGill University’s Department of Psychology and Montreal’s Neurological Institute who are working to understand how the brain learns language.

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Are women really better at learning languages?

13 January 2014 (The Telegraph)

When it comes to education, females have certainly been covering lost ground. Girls now outperform boys in GCSEs and women outnumber men at most UK universities.

In the field of language learning, there has been a long-standing idea that females are also more adept at languages than males, excelling in their native tongue and also foreign language study. But is there any truth behind this theory, or is it just academic folklore?

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KENYON: While abroad, politeness, flexibility can bridge language gap

24 April 2013 (Daily Nebraskan)

“Gracias,” “Dĕkuji,” “Danke,” “Takk,” “Merci,” “Thank you.” Languages can be a lot of fun. They can also be challenging.

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