Sunday, November 6, 2011

Web INFO: Why it is smart to be bilingual

The brain’s real super-food may be learning new languages.

It has been only two years since Utah legislators secured funding to experiment with immersion education, but already the state has 51 programs up and running. Fourteen more are set to take off this fall. By 2014, educators hope to have 30,000 of Utah's students signed up."Our main goal is to mainstream immersion," said Gregg Roberts, the world language specialist at the Utah State Office of Education. "In the past, it has been a boutique program for elite private schools. We want to make that option available to all parents." In the meantime, other states are taking note. Utah is the first in the nation to develop standardized immersion curriculum. In June, representatives from Arizona, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and North and South Carolina dropped in to take a peek at the state's program. "Utah is leading the nation in immersion education," said Myriam Met, deputy director of the National Foreign Language Center in Maryland. "I'm in awe of what you're doing for your children and your communities."( Info By Elizabeth Stuart, Deseret News Published: Wednesday, July 7, 2010)

Dr. Jopling found this great article on the web and thought it was great to share
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On a sweltering August morning, in a classroom overlooking New York’s Hudson River, a group of 3-year-olds are rolling sticky rice balls in chocolate sprinkles, as a teacher guides them completely in Mandarin.
This is just one toddler learning game at the total--immersion language summer camp run by the primary school Bilingual Buds, which offers a year-round curriculum in Mandarin as well as Spanish (at a New Jersey campus) for kids as young as 2. Bilingualism, of course, can be a leg up for college admission and a résumé burnisher. But a growing body of research now offers a further rationale: the regular, high-level use of more than one language may actually improve early brain development.
According to several different studies, command of two or more languages bolsters the ability to focus in the face of distraction, decide between competing alternatives, and disregard irrelevant information. These essential skills are grouped together, known in brain terms as “executive function.” The research suggests they develop ahead of time in bilingual children, and are already evident in kids as young as 3 or 4.
While no one has yet identified the exact mechanism by which bilingualism boosts brain development, the advantage likely stems from the bilingual’s need to continually select the right language for a given situation. According to Ellen Bialystok, a professor at York University in Toronto and a leading researcher in the field, this constant selecting process is strenuous exercise for the brain and involves processes beyond those required for monolingual speech, resulting in an extra stash of mental acuity, or, in Bialy-stok’s terms, a “cognitive reserve.”
Bilingual education, commonplace in many countries, is a growing trend across the United States, with 440 elementary schools (up from virtually none in 1970) offering immersion study in Spanish, Mandarin, and French, in that order of popularity.
For parents whose toddlers can’t read Tolstoy in the original Russian, the research does offer some comfort: Tamar Gollan, a professor at University of California, San Diego, has found a vocabulary gap between children who speak only one language and those who grow up with more. On average, the more languages spoken, the smaller the vocabulary in each one. Gollan’s research suggests that while that gap narrows as children grow, it does not close completely.
The rule of thumb for improving in any language is simple practice. “The more you use it, the better off you are,” Gollan says. “Vocabulary tests, SATs, GREs—those are tests that probe the absolute limits of your ability, and that’s where we find that bilinguals have the disadvantage, where you know the word but you just can’t get it out.”
Gollan believes this deficit can be compensated for with extra study. A more complicated question is how and whether bilingualism may interact with other cognitive issues that can appear in early childhood, specifically attention disorders, says Bialystok. Because attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is linked to compromised executive functioning, it is unclear what impact learning a second language—which calls upon exactly these executive skills—might have on children with this condition. Research on this question is underway.
Some of the most valuable mental perks of bilingualism can’t be measured at all, of course. To speak more than one language is to inherit a global consciousness that opens the mind to more than one culture or way of life.
Bilinguals also appear to be better at learning new languages than monolinguals. London-based writer Clarisse Lehmann spent her early childhood in Switzerland speaking French. At 6, she learned English. Later she learned Spanish, German, and, during three years spent living in Tokyo, Japanese.
“There’s a witty humor in English that has a different sensibility in French,” she says. “And in Japanese, there’s no sarcasm. When I tried, it would be ‘We don’t understand what you’re trying to say.’?”
With five languages under her belt—and a working familiarity with Latin and Greek as well—Lehmann finally considers herself sufficiently multilingual. “Enough, enough!” she says. “I don’t want to learn any more languages.”

What are your thoughts on this in our schools? Does anyone have an experience good or bad that they would mind letting us know so we can all keep making good informed decisions for our children?

*first Part of  article from By Elizabeth Stuart, Deseret News
**article from: Casey Schwartz is a graduate of Brown University and has a master's degree in psychodynamic neuroscience from University College London. She has previously written for The New York Sun and ABC News. She is currently working on a book about the brain world.

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