Archive for the ‘Language acquisition’ Category

Americans learn Cockney

Posted on July 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

With less than a week to go until the Olympics opening ceremony, there are plenty of foreign athletes arriving on our shores.

But what do the athletes know about London, and more importantly, can they decipher Cockney Rhyming Slang? Team USA have challenged their athletes to learn – and speak – the slang, with hilarious results! See some American athletes, including 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, gymnast Nastia Liukin and diver David Boudia take up the challenge in the video below.

How many South African languages are there?

Posted on July 8th, 2012by Michelle
In Afrikaans, Indigenous languages, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Can you guess?

If you guessed 11, you’d be right. The 11 official languages of South Africa are: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Many countries have just one or two official languages (or in the USA, none at all). Some official languages are regulated by an authority, such as France’s Académie Française. South Africa’s languages are overseen by the government department PanSALB (Pan South African Language Board).

It seems that PanSALB hasn’t been too successful though, with the Economist reporting that it is underfunded and accused of being corrupt and mismanaged. So what’s the answer?

The Use of Official Languages Bill, introduced early this year, seeks to get government institutions using the native African languages more, alongside English and Afrikaans. But as South Africa has learned with PanSALB, implementation is the hard part. To improve, South African officials might see a model in India, whose 23 recognised languages—the most in the world—have found support in the respected Sahitya Akademi, the national academy of letters….

South African languages may too find greater support in groups founded and run by native speakers themselves, bottom-up and not top-down. The government might not have the resources or emotional investment to properly preserve and promote all of South Africa’s official languages. But at least the law gives all 11 languages equality in theory. Perhaps it’s time for indigenous language communities to make them more equal in fact. (Source: Economist)

Guardian Books podcast: Minority languages literature

Posted on June 30th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Are you learning a minority language?

Even if you’re not, this is a great podcast to listen to, and pick up some tips on new books to read.

Claire Armitstead speaks to Clive Boutle, of publisher Francis Boutle, about his Lesser Used Languages of Europe series, and discusses the pleasures and problems of bringing out anthologies of Galician, Breton, Norman, Manx and Cornish writing. She also talks to Paul Gubbins, co-editor of the Esperanto magazine Monato, about the benefits of a truly international language.

Finally, as the inaugural bilingual Dinefwr Literature Festival opens, Sarah Crown asks National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke about the challenges of representing a country with a substantial literary tradition in two different languages. (Source: Guardian)

British children behind in languages by age 3

Posted on June 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Education, English, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Following last week’s news that the primary school curriculum is to be changed to make a second language compulsory from age seven, a new study says British children are behind in languages by age three.

The study was completed by language experts, who revealed that English-speaking countries devote the least amount of time to foreign-language learning. Language learning in primary schools is voluntary in English-speaking countries including England, Australia and the US.

But the report also said: “There are greater challenges in implementing primary languages for policy makers in English-speaking countries than there are in the rest of the world.”

In English-speaking countries, it adds, “there is no one language which everyone wants to learn”.

It is also often argued in the UK that learning another language is unnecessary because English is the universal language of business. However, the report concludes: “The assumption that English speakers do not need to learn other languages because others are learning ours is damaging to our economy.”

The report does not come up with an optimum age for learning a foreign language but says an early start is essential. “Unless language learning starts early, it is argued, learners will be unable to take advantage of the natural capacity young children have to acquire language instinctively,” it says. (Source: The Independent)

When did you start learning languages? Do you wish you’d got a head start in primary school?

Languages compulsory from age seven

Posted on June 16th, 2012by Michelle
In Education, English, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Following the news that Scottish schools are considering overhauling the language curriculum, English primary schools are following suit.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, is expected to announce that learning a language will be compulsory from the age of seven for English children. In addition, there will be a “new focus” on spelling and grammar.

[Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg] welcomed the government’s ideas, saying: “I think it’s absolutely right. Children will get a love of languages if they start them young.”

Under Mr Gove’s plans, primary schools could offer lessons in Mandarin, Latin and Greek, as well as French, German and Spanish.
The Department for Education said that where English teaching was concerned, the aim was to ensure that pupils left primary school with high standards of literacy. (Source: BBC News)

Scottish schools language overhaul

Posted on May 25th, 2012by Michelle
In Education, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

My last post was about a new study suggesting schools keep track of languages spoken by ethnic minority pupils.

Scottish schools may soon need to keep track of languages spoken by all pupils, with the news that the Minister for Learning said there should be an overhaul of language learning in schools. The Scottish Government is to investigate opportunities for all students to learn a second language from P1. Another suggestion was that starting to learn a third language should happen no later than P5.

Dr Allan said:

“The world is changing rapidly and radically and the Government has a duty to ensure that Scottish schools prepare young people so they can flourish and succeed in the globalised, multi-lingual world we now live in.

“One indisputable aspect of modern life is that more people travel widely for jobs and leisure and we must respond accordingly; we will not be as successful as a country and economy if we remain essentially a mono-lingual society.

“The Scottish Government is committed to radically improving the provision of modern languages in our schools. We see the Barcelona Agreement to the ‘1+2’ arrangement – learning two languages in addition to the mother tongue – as key to delivering this commitment. This is unique within the UK and will bring us more into line with other EU member states. (Source:

This is a different approach than that taken by the rest of the UK, which will be of great benefit to students if they are able to continue their progression throughout their schooling.

Linguistic minorities in English schools

Posted on May 21st, 2012by Michelle
In Education, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

A new report says schools should keep track of languages spoken by ethnic minority pupils.

Researchers from London Metropolitan University looked into which linguistic minorities struggle in education in England, and found that in some areas the data kept was imprecise. Previous studies found that pupils with a second language did better than the national average at GCSE level; however the researchers found this was only the case in inner London.

The report says that given the growing “super-diversity” of England and the rest of the UK, crude ethnic categories in government data mask the finer detail and may be getting in the way of understanding minority communities’ relative achievements and needs.

“If we are to get any closer closer to understanding the role of language, bilingualism and multilingualism in children’s relative attainment we need better data and more fine-grained analysis,” the report states. (Source: BBC News)

The learning paradox

Posted on April 30th, 2012by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

It’s incredibly frustrating when you grasp for a word or phrase in your target language but it’s just out of reach. Your teacher won’t help, your classmates look blank, and you’re slowly getting more red in the face as your mind struggles to find those elusive words.

Don’t worry though – it’s good for you! Researchers at the National Institute of Education of Singapore found that struggling to learn new information leads to better recall later. Traditionally teachers will guide students and support them in their learning. The learning paradox shows that when this support is taken away, students may not be able to come up with the correct solution, but have learned more in the process.

The apparent struggles of the floundering group have what Kapur calls a “hidden efficacy”: they lead people to understand the deep structure of problems, not simply their correct solutions. When these students encounter a new problem of the same type on a test, they’re able to transfer the knowledge they’ve gathered more effectively than those who were the passive recipients of someone else’s expertise. (Source: Time)

So what does this mean for language learners? Well, perhaps next time you’re cursing your teacher for setting you some difficult homework, consider the longer term benefits – they’re probably doing it to help you become more comfortable with your target language.

New hope for Welsh?

Posted on April 29th, 2012by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Language acquisition, Welsh | Leave a Comment »

There is renewed hope for the future of the Welsh language following the Welsh language commissioner’s first speech earlier this month.

Meri Huws is the first Welsh Language Commissioner, and her duties include promoting and facilitating use of the language, conducting inquiries and working towards Welsh being equal with English. Huws’ first speech highlighted these duties as she spoke of her vision that Welsh speakers have the confidence to use the language and trust that any prejudice would be rectified by law.

About 21% of the population of Wales speak Welsh, according to the Welsh government. There is a wide range of views on the future of the language, with some welcoming the Commissioner’s policies, others seeing them as a burden on small businesses or that Welsh is a dying language not worth saving.

The appointment of Meri Huws may herald an increase in the number of language commissioners across the UK, with Scotland and Northern Ireland watching closely; there is an argument that commissioners should also be established in England to help protect minority languages.

(Source: Guardian)

Pre-schoolers have language show

Posted on March 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

A new programme on BBC kids channel CBeebies aims to introduce pre-schoolers to language and culture.

The Lingo Show is an eleven minute programme hosted by an animated bug named Lingo. Lingo then introduces other characters who sing about their country and culture. Children learn words in the different languages through the songs and repetition.

Wei is the character in the first episode, and introduces Mandarin Chinese words including numbers up to ten and colours. Later episodes feature a Spanish bug called Queso and French bug Jargonaise.

You can watch episodes on BBC iPlayer, and also visit the show’s companion website to sing along with songs from the episodes.