Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Top 10 internet languages

Posted on March 28th, 2010by Michelle
In Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portugese, Research, Russian, Spanish, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Graph of Top 10 languagesThe internet is a great resource for language learning, but only if you can find the information you need.

Good news for English speakers and language learners as English is the language most used by internet users. According to research by Internet World Stats, English is the language used by almost 30% of users. This is quite closely followed by Chinese and then Spanish. Japanese, French, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Russian and Korean round out the top 10.

Keeping this in mind, try out this game to see if you can guess the world’s top 20 most spoken languages. I think the number one will surprise you!

Schoolkids speak many languages

Posted on March 5th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Education, English, Research | 1 Comment »

Children and languageThere’s been a lot of debate recently about language learning in schools in the UK. The government has shifted the focus of language teaching to primary schools, with high school students not required to learn a second language at GCSE level.

Interestingly, it seems that teaching a second non-English language may not be the only issue for the government. Surveys have revealed that in some parts of the country, pupils are attending school with little or no English.

A Government study found last year that some 240 different languages are spoken by schoolchildren in the home across Britain as a whole, with one-in-seven primary school pupils not speaking English as a first language across the UK.

There are 10 schools in the UK where no child speaks English as a first language, the figures show.

Staff and pupils at Fairlight Primary School in Brighton resorted to learning sign language to communicate, with children speaking 26 different languages at home in 2008. (Source: Telegraph)

A survey in Reading, England, has found that 150 languages and dialects are spoken by pupils in its area, including the Indian language of Telugu and the Ghanaian dialect of Akan. This incredible diversity is making it difficult to provide for all pupils. I wonder if, rather than seeing it as a negative thing, their knowledge could be used to help others – child to child language exchange perhaps?

The writing on the (cave) wall

Posted on February 28th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Hieroglyphics, Historic, Research | Leave a Comment »

Chauvet cave artIncredible article in New Scientist this week, about prehistoric symbols discovered in caves in southern France.

Whilst artwork on the cave walls has been studied intensively, new research has shown that previously-ignored ‘doodles’ could be evidence of a primitive precursor to writing. A postgraduate student at the University of Victoria, Canada, built a database of signs from caves all over France and the results were striking – signs drawn in the same style, appeared at numerous different sites, which could indicate the beginnings of a simple language system. The earliest recorded pictograph writing systems are thought to date to 5,000 years ago, but this discovery may change current thought.

..One of the most intriguing facts to emerge from von Petzinger’s work is that more than three-quarters of the symbols were present in the very earliest sites, from over 30,000 years ago.

“I was really surprised to discover this,” says von Petzinger. If the creative explosion occurred 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, she would have expected to see evidence of symbols being invented and discarded at this early stage, with a long period of time passing before a recognisable system emerged. Instead, it appears that by 30,000 years ago a set of symbols was already well established.

That suggests we might need to rethink our ideas about prehistoric people, von Petzinger says. “This incredible diversity and continuity of use suggests that the symbolic revolution may have occurred before the arrival of the first modern humans in Europe.” If she is right, it would push back the date of the creative explosion by tens of thousands of years.

Read the rest of the article here.

Bilingual from before birth?

Posted on February 18th, 2010by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Research, Spanish | 1 Comment »

It’s often said that children pick up languages faster than adults, and the younger new languages are introduced, the quicker they learn. A new study now suggests that babies who hear two languages in the womb are already on the path to bilingualism.

The team of psychological scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada found that language acquisition takes place even before birth, with babies picking up on languages in the womb. They found a correlation between a “sucking reflex” (which apparently shows stimulus or interest) and being spoken to in different languages.

On average, monolingual English babies gave more strong sucks per minute when hearing English, while bilingual babies gave the same number of sucks upon hearing both languages.

Realizing the bilingual babies could have shown equal interest in both languages simply because they didn’t know the difference, the researchers devised a second experiment to determine if the babies were able to tell the languages apart.

The infants heard sentences being spoken in one language until they lost interest. Then they either heard sentences spoken in the other language or sentences spoken in the same language, but by a different person.

The result found babies sucked more when they heard the language change, but not with a different person speaking the same language, suggesting they are able to tell the difference between two languages from early stages in life.

Werker said many bilingual parents are concerned that if they speak two languages, their children are going to be language-delayed or confused — but this research refutes that notion. (Source: Vancouver Sun)

I’ve always wanted to be bilingual and am now struggling as an adult to pick up Spanish. I guess with this news I can blame my lack of language skills on my parents for not speaking to me in anything other than English!

It’s amour

Posted on February 14th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Events, French, Italian, Japanese, Research, Spanish, Words | Leave a Comment »

love heartsIt’s that time of year again, when you can’t go near a shop, magazine, or website without seeing some combination of pink, red, and the word ‘Valentine’.

This year we have a little something extra: a survey of language experts has revealed that amour is the most romantic word in the world.

The French word for love beat amore, the Italian word for love, in a poll by London-based Today Translations. The survey also found that Italian was the most romantic language, followed by French, with Spanish and English tied in third place.

And the least romantic way to profess your love? In Japanese: watakushi-wa anata-wo ai shimasu. I suppose it does look a bit wordy!

What are your favourite romantic words?

Language and social structure

Posted on January 28th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English, Mandarin, Research | Leave a Comment »

A new study has shown that language structure may be more closely tied to social structure than previously thought.

Psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Memphis have published a new study on linguistic evolution that challenges long-held views of how languages became so different. Traditional thinking holds that languages developed because of “random change and historical drift”. The differences in space and time throughout history have evolved the separation between English and Mandarin, for example.

The “Linguistic Niche Hypothesis”, however, argues that languages evolve within particular socio-demographic niches.

The researchers found striking relationships between the demographic properties of a language — such as its population and global spread — and the grammatical complexity of those languages. Languages having the most speakers — and those that have spread around the world — were found to have far simpler grammars, specifically morphology, than languages spoken by few people and in circumscribed regions. For example, languages spoken by more than 100,000 people are almost six times more likely to have simple verb conjugations compared to languages spoken by fewer than 100,000 people.

Larger populations tend to have simpler pronoun and number systems and a smaller number of cases and genders and in general do not employ complex prefixing or suffixing rules in their grammars. A consequence is that languages with long histories of adult learners have become easier to learn over time. Although a number of researchers have predicted such relationships between social and language structure, this is the first large-scale statistical test of this idea.

The results draw connections between the evolution of human language and biological organisms. Just as very distantly related organisms converge on evolutionary strategies in particular niches, languages may adapt to the social environments in which they are learned and used. (Source: Science Daily)

Scots and English

Posted on January 16th, 2010by Michelle
In Research, Scots | Leave a Comment »

Interesting article in The Times yesterday about the division between Scots and English.

Both languages are from the same Germanic root (Old English), and yet sound completely different. There is some debate about whether Scots is a language or an old English dialect, although it is recognised as a regional language by under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Whatever the case, it seems that people are proud to speak Scots. A recent survey revealed:

Beyond the rather disheartening conclusion that a majority did not regard Scots as a language at all, there were some more encouraging responses. Just under two thirds (63 per cent) of those asked disagreed with the statement that Scots “doesn’t sound nice — it’s slang”, and 40 per cent disagreeing strongly. Eighty-five per cent claimed to speak Scots, with a substantial proportion (43 per cent) claiming to speak it “a lot”. Most said that they either spoke Scots when socialising (69 per cent) or at home with family (63 per cent) and about two thirds thought they probably spoke it without realising. (Source: The Times)

Remapping the world

Posted on January 15th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages, Research | Leave a Comment »

Papua New GuineaIn my last post I wrote about The Atlas of True Names, which renamed places according to their etymology.

Another map has been brought to my attention – one that reorganises the world according to the number of languages it has produced.
Limits of Language: Almost Everything You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Language and Languages (whew!) by Mikael Parkvall is “part Guinness Book of World Records, part Book of Lists, and part illustrated encyclopedia”. And if that doesn’t make you want to take a look at it, this will: Papua New Guinea is the biggest place on the map.

Yep, tiny little Papua New Guinea (it’s off the northeast coast of Australia, if you’re trying to find it on a map), has produced more languages than any other country. Its total indigenous language count is 841, of which 830 are classified as ‘living’ and 11 have no known speakers.

Take a look at this PDF file for a sneak preview.

Subtitles aid language learning

Posted on December 10th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, German, Hints and Tips, Japanese, Language acquisition, Research, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday I posted about a language, Na’vi, that was created for a movie.

Invented languages aren’t the only ones you can learn from films though – they’re a great way to improve your skills in your chosen language, be it Spanish, German or Japanese.

There’s a huge range of movies out there in every genre, so there’s something to interest everyone – from big budget Hollywood blockbusters to Japanese anime flicks. Sometimes the accents are a problem though, or perhaps the words are too unfamiliar to completely follow the plot.

That’s where subtitles become useful. A new study has shown that second-language listening ability can be improved by watching movies with subtitles in the second language. The research, published in the online science journal PLoS One, shows that foreign subtitles can help with speech perception, whilst native language subtitles may hinder this. The written word appears to help the learner perceive the speech more accurately as they can draw on previous knowledge of similar words.

So, next time you’re watching a foreign language movie, why not try switching the subtitles?

Multilingualism a brain boost?

Posted on December 7th, 2009by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

Multilingual signThere are many benefits to speaking more than one language – from the ability to communicate with more people to increased cultural awareness.

Now scientists have discovered that multilingualism can increase your brain power. A new study from the European Commission has found that the ability to speak multiple languages can be beneficial to many areas of the human brain.

David Marsh, specialized planner at the Continuing Professional Development Centre of Jyväskylä University, who coordinated the international research team behind the study, says that especially the research conducted within neurosciences offers an increasing amount of strong evidence of versatile knowledge of languages being beneficial for the usage of an individual’s brain.

“The research report brings forth six main areas where multilingualism and hence the mastery of complex processes of thought seem to put people in advantage. These include learning in general, complex thinking and creativity, mental flexibility, interpersonal and communication skills, and even a possible delay in the onset of age-related mental diminishment later in life,” Marsh relates. (Source: Science Daily)

Interestingly, it seems that the benefits may not be limited to just fluent bi- and multi- linguals. The research found that even beginners in a new language may have altered electrical currents in the brain. Read the full article at Science Daily.