Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Sleep and Study

Posted on February 25th, 2014by Melanie
In Education, Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

Did you go to bed with headphones on the night before an important test or exam when you were at school, listening to the revision notes over and over again? Or did you listen to a recording of your speech as you drifted off to sleep the night before an important presentation at work? It may have seemed a desperate attempt to get the knowledge to stay in your head at the time, but the notion of sleep aiding learning is actually true.

HeadphonesStudies showed that participants who had had a short sleep during the day were able to recall information more easily, and to a greater extent if the nap was taken nearer to the time of learning. A good night’s sleep before a day of testing also gives improved results showing that we subconsciously learn while we’re asleep and can transform this into usable knowledge during the day. But how is this possible?

Everything we’ve learned during the day is reinforced as we sleep due to the fact that the brain stays active. Even a quick snooze after learning something can result in a higher recollection of what we’ve just learned. Therefore, it’s not necessarily the amount of sleep we have, but the fact that we are able to have some sleep which gives our brain a chance to process the information.

file0001988663950So sleep equals enhanced learning. But how does that help you with your language lessons? Don’t worry, you haven’t got to download all of your lessons and listen to them while you’re trying to drift off to sleep, and you don’t need to recite the verbs and tenses repeatedly until you fall asleep. It is a good idea, however, to do some revision not long before you go to sleep, as you’re more likely to remember it in more detail when you wake up. And if you feel like you’re having a brain overload after one of your lessons, try a power nap to help lock the information in your mind.

Do you find that things seem clearer after you’ve had some sleep? Why not see for yourself if the theory works by testing yourself to see how much you can recall from your language lessons both before and after periods of sleep.

Being Bilingual Bolsters the Brain

Posted on October 13th, 2013by Melanie
In Research, Speech, Words | Leave a Comment »

Brain workoutDoes speaking two languages just confuse your brain? Does bilingualism muddle your thoughts and hinder speech in both languages? Well, that used to be the general opinion, especially where children were concerned. On the contrary, we now know that the complete opposite is true, with bilingualism enhancing thought patterns and organizing them into a much clearer format.

Haven’t you ever sat and listened to someone speaking in two different languages, naturally flicking from one to the other without hesitating, enviously wishing you could do the same? This ability is due to the mental workout being bilingual gives to your brain, training it to be stronger and more flexible. The ability to multi-task, not just with languages, but with all things, becomes very apparent as does the ability for the speaker to edit the languages and information according to who they are speaking with. For example, two bilinguals will often flit between the two languages using the best words or phrases from either language to get their point across. When speaking to someone who only understands one of the languages, however, the bilingual speaker will stick to that language when conversing with them. This ‘language selection’ is a cognitive skill built up from the mental exercises used to speak two languages fluently.

Research has shown that bilinguals can comprehend languages in a different way to monolinguals, concentrating on key words or phrases when reading sentences rather than the whole text. The brain becomes more organized and filters out the relevant information. Bilingual children tend to be better at prioritizing than their peers and adults are much better at multi-tasking. Being bilingual can bolster the brain and helps to protect it from aging issues, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Do you have the ability to juggle two languages? Do you find it confusing or are your thoughts very clear and organized?

Can´t Learn, Won´t Learn!

Posted on June 16th, 2013by Melanie
In Education, Italian, Research | Leave a Comment »

Can´t learnEveryone can learn a new language! That´s not just an optimistic line aimed at someone later on in life who is groaning at the thought of having to start to learn a language, or someone  who never did well in school and thinks they don´t have the ability to learn. According to research, it has been scientifically proven that, with the correct learning techniques, a new language can be learned by anyone at any time.

How? When someone has been out of an educational environment for a long time or doesn´t have a knack for learning languages, this may seem very unlikely. It´s simple! They just need to listen to a word 160 times over a period of 14 minutes according to neuroscientists. The brain may struggle to recognise the new word being introduced initially but, after this amount of exposure to the word, it suddenly recognises the word as indistinguishable from those they are already familiar with. Findings also showed that it wasn´t necessary for any active participation of the volunteers in the study to try to learn the language; there were no memory tests or repetition exercises, just listening and their brains did the rest of the hard work.

But let´s face it, with such busy lives, who has either the time or inclination to learn new words 160 times, whatever the time period they can be learned over? The study has proven that everyone has the ability to learn a new language, no matter what their age or learning capabilities but, in real terms, the findings aren´t really feasible or practical. The interesting part of the study is that no active participation was needed, just to listen. This is already a teaching method used widely nowadays, where teachers are doing away with the traditional schooling methods of using books and writing tasks, and are concentrating on speaking the language with the onus on the pupils to listen and tune into the new words without questioning the structure and meaning as they would normally.

To relax and enjoy the lessons is also said to enhance the learning process and helps to increase the level at which the new language is absorbed. To make something a difficult task makes it a chore and can act as a hindrance as the brain can “switch off” and therefore not take in as much information. Whereas, if a subject is enjoyable and is practised in a relaxed atmosphere, the brain is more “switched on” and receptive to taking in new information.

So if you´re ready to learn a foreign language and eager to do so without the tediousness often associated with lessons, then it´s time to explore the more modern teaching methods available to you. Using innovative training techniques and by combining language learning with a fun approach, you can easily be at a conversational level in your chosen language in no time at all.  If you´d like to speak a Romance language, for example, then immerse yourself in some lively Italian lessons in London for fast results in an entertaining way!

Make the Most of Your Memory

Posted on June 12th, 2013by Melanie
In French, Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

BilingualResearch studies have shown that learning two or more languages can improve your memory later in life. Learning another language and being able to interchange between the two of them exercises your mind, making your brain more flexible, which helps to protect your memory.

Cognitive research has shown that learning more languages can actually delay the onset of dementia by a number of years. By exercising your mind and by challenging your brain, you build up a reserve of extra brain power that helps to combat memory loss. Normally, average people may begin to suffer from symptoms of dementia in their mid-seventies but bilingual people are able to stave off the symptoms until their eighties.

Being bilingual is said to boost a part of the frontal lobe of the brain known as the ‘executive control system’ in that it controls language, learning, reasoning and memory. This area becomes stronger as you learn a language, particularly from a young age, but there are still benefits to learning languages later in life as it keeps your brain active and resistant to damage. Symptoms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s can be delayed for up to five years.

If being bilingual has significant health benefits, then multilingual speakers are in an even better position. Individuals with the ability to speak three languages are three times less like to develop memory problems compared with bilingual people. Speakers of over four languages are five times less likely to suffer from memory issues. Researchers believe that increased fluency levels in these languages is more effective at boosting memory but it´s not essential; it´s purely the extra usage and stimulation of the brain when learning languages that seems to act as a protective element against cognitive problems.

It´s never too late to start learning a new language so face your future head on; master another language and improve your memory now. Kick start your brain training with some French classes in Manchester or a city near you!

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

Posted on May 2nd, 2013by Melanie
In French, Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

It’s no secret that men and women are different from each other in just about every way. Their physical appearance, their emotional attitudes, their interests, their abilities…they might as well be from different planets! Many studies have been conducted over the years to see if men´s and women’s brains are wired differently making one sex excel in one field while the other sex excels in another. One such type of theory and related studies considers the difference in linguistic abilities between men and women; does one have the ability to learn languages more easily than the other?

The answer is yes, women are more likely to succeed in learning a new language and at a faster rate than men. This is because they process the information in both sides of their brain and also listen using both the right and left hemispheres which enables them to multitask while doing so. Men, on the other hand, use the left hemisphere only of their brain when listening and also when learning a new language. Men process male and female voices differently to each other which can lessen the degree of ease for learning languages. In the parts of the brains used to process languages, women´s brains have been found to have a larger proportion of volume than men, resulting in women having a natural advantage over men in the ability to learn and process languages. Whilst these findings don´t affect everyone, they do apply to the average population and go a long way in explaining why there seem to be more females in language related professions, such as interpreters, over their male counterparts.

Why not test this theory for yourself and get a mixed group of friends together to see who has the ability to learn French faster in London!

How do stereotypes evolve?

Posted on September 12th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Research | Leave a Comment »

Research has found that stereotypes evolve in a similar way to languages.

The research, presented at the British Science Festival in Scotland, was carried out by a team at the University of Aberdeen. They found that stereotypes are an “unintended consequence” of information sharing, which evolve as they move between people.

To address the genesis of such stereotypes, Dr Doug Martin and colleagues from the University of Aberdeen’s Person Perception Lab designed an experiment using aliens – an approach previously used to study the origins and evolution of language.

The aliens they invented each had a different colour, shape and set of personality traits; such as arrogance, pushiness or selfishness.

The team then asked a volunteer to learn the characteristics assigned to each one. The information retained by the volunteer was then fed down a communication chain.

What started out as jumbled and complex individual characteristics and traits ended up encompassed in sets of stereotypes.

Character traits became inextricably linked with form and colour – for example, blue aliens might be perceived as arrogant, pushy and untrusting. (Source: BBC News)

The experiment sounds a bit like a game of Chinese Whispers! The researchers will next be looking at if stereotypes can be manipulated.

Origins of the Indo-European Language Family

Posted on September 5th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Research | Leave a Comment »

A new paper in Science magazine explores the origins of the Indo-European language family.

Here’s the abstract:

There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. We used Bayesian phylogeographic approaches, together with basic vocabulary data from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages, to explicitly model the expansion of the family and test these hypotheses. We found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin. Both the inferred timing and root location of the Indo-European language trees fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8000 to 9500 years ago. These results highlight the critical role that phylogeographic inference can play in resolving debates about human prehistory.

You need subscriber access or to pay to read the full article, but it definitely sounds worth a read!

German – the best language to study?

Posted on August 24th, 2012by Michelle
In Education, Language acquisition, Research | Leave a Comment »

Following last week’s news of a decline in the number of students studying some languages at A-Level, the Telegraph have put together a list of their top 10 “best languages to study” for graduate jobs.

The full list:
1. German
2. French
3. Spanish
4. Mandarin
5. Polish
6. Arabic
7. Cantonese
8. Russian
9. Japanese
10. Portuguese

The list is somewhat surprising, given that students are choosing not to study German, French and Spanish in favour of Japanese and Mandarin.

The survey asked UK firm managers what languages are useful for their business. Given that Germany’s the only country defying the depression in the eurozone, I’m not surprised it tops the list.

What do you think is the “best” language to study?

Brain gaps

Posted on August 5th, 2012by Michelle
In Research, Words | Leave a Comment »

New research has found that our brains often miss key words – including ones that can change the meaning of a sentence.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that our brains don’t process every word – so a sentence like “After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?” will leave people wondering what an appropriate burial place would be. (If you’re confused, read the sentence again – I had to try it three times!).

“What makes researchers particularly interested in people’s failure to notice words that actually don’t make sense, so called semantic illusions, is that these illusions challenge traditional models of language processing which assume that we build understanding of a sentence by deeply analysing the meaning of each word in turn.

Instead semantic illusions provide a strong line of evidence that the way we process language is often shallow and incomplete.” (Science Daily)

The researchers recommend that important information is put at the start of a sentence, and also to avoid multi-tasking when listening to an important message.

Australia’s linguistic diversity

Posted on June 24th, 2012by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Research | Leave a Comment »

Data from last year’s census has been revealed, showing Australia’s linguistic diversity.

Just over 20% of households across Australia report speaking more than one language at home, with the most commonly reported languages being Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese and Greek. In major cities Melbourne and Sydney, this rises to over 30%, with some areas of Sydney at 85%.

Indigenous languages are also represented in the data, with Warlpiri spoken in 2500 dwellings, Djambarrpuyngu in 3000, and Pitjantjarjara in 4000. English-based creoles spoken in a number of communities are also reported, with Kriol spoken in 6800 dwellings.

All this means that around 1 in 5 people in Australia speak another language. I wonder what the comparable data is for the UK?

(Source: Fully (sic) )