Some people seem to pick up a second language with relative ease, while others have a much more difficult time. Now, a new study suggests that learning to understand and read a second language may be driven, at least in part, by our ability to pick up on statistical regularities.
These are words French people sort of use anarchically regladless of their original gender. This confusion can be explained for example by liaisons (L’armistice = le + armistice, but it sounds like la + armistice), by the facts we mostly use them with their plural form (Les horaires d’ouverture…
Mysteries of Vernacular While humans have been speaking for tens of thousands of years, writing has only been around for approximately 5000 years. Check out this video from TED-Ed to see where writing came from.
A lot of oldies, but some fresh ideas as well. It’s definitely worth a look, especially since each idea comes with a source. Here are three (with sources):
Set up a poll: Teachers might want to set up a Twitter poll for either their students or the broader microblogging community. The applications are limited only by one’s own creativity; for an added bonus, combine the poll with some sort of geotracker.
______ of the day: No matter the class, a vocabulary word, book, song, quote or something else “of the day” might very well make an excellent supplement to the day’s lesson. When teaching younger kids, tell their parents about the Twitter feed and encourage them to talk about postings at home.
Start a book club: Within the industry but outside the classroom, some educations band together via Twitter and host their own book clubs. A common hashtag and communicative network is all it takes to share insight and recommendations.
To say, “This is my uncle,” in Chinese, you have no choice but to encode more information about said uncle. The language requires that you denote the side the uncle is on, whether he’s related by marriage or birth and, if it’s your father’s brother, whether he’s older or younger.
“All of this information is obligatory. Chinese doesn’t let me ignore it,” says Chen. “In fact, if I want to speak correctly, Chinese forces me to constantly think about it.”
This got Chen wondering: Is there a connection between language and how we think and behave? In particular, Chen wanted to know: does our language affect our economic decisions?
Chen designed a study — which he describes in detail in this blog post — to look at how language might affect individual’s ability to save for the future. According to his results, it does — big time.
While “futured languages,” like English, distinguish between the past, present and future, “futureless languages,” like Chinese, use the same phrasing to describe the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Using vast inventories of data and meticulous analysis, Chen found that huge economic differences accompany this linguistic discrepancy. Futureless language speakers are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year than futured language speakers. (This amounts to 25 percent more savings by retirement, if income is held constant.) Chen’s explanation: When we speak about the future as more distinct from the present, it feels more distant — and we’re less motivated to save money now in favor of monetary comfort years down the line.
But that’s only the beginning. There’s a wide field of research on the link between language and both psychology and behavior. Here, a few fascinating examples:
Navigation and Pormpuraawans In Pormpuraaw, an Australian Aboriginal community, you wouldn’t refer to an object as on your “left” or “right,” but rather as “northeast” or “southwest,” writes Stanford psychology professor Lera Boroditsky (and an expert in linguistic-cultural connections) in the Wall Street Journal. About a third of the world’s languages discuss space in these kinds of absolute terms rather than the relative ones we use in English, according to Boroditsky. “As a result of this constant linguistic training,” she writes, “speakers of such languages are remarkably good at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes.” On a research trip to Australia, Boroditsky and her colleague found that Pormpuraawans, who speak Kuuk Thaayorre, not only knew instinctively in which direction they were facing, but also always arranged pictures in a temporal progression from east to west.
Blame and English Speakers In the same article, Boroditsky notes that in English, we’ll often say that someone broke a vase even if it was an accident, but Spanish and Japanese speakers tend to say that the vase broke itself. Boroditsky describes a study by her student Caitlin Fausey in which English speakers were much more likely to remember who accidentally popped balloons, broke eggs, or spilled drinks in a video than Spanish or Japanese speakers. (Guilt alert!) Not only that, but there’s a correlation between a focus on agents in English and our criminal-justice bent toward punishing transgressors rather than restituting victims, Boroditsky argues.
Color among Zuñi and Russian Speakers Our ability to distinguish between colors follows the terms in which we describe them, as Chen notes in the academic paper in which he presents his research (forthcoming in the American Economic Review; PDF here). A 1954 study found that Zuñi speakers, who don’t differentiate between orange and yellow, have trouble telling them apart. Russian speakers, on the other hand, have separate words for light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy). According to a 2007 study, they’re better than English speakers at picking out blues close to the goluboy/siniy threshold.
Gender in Finnish and Hebrew In Hebrew, gender markers are all over the place, whereas Finnish doesn’t mark gender at all, Boroditsky writes in Scientific American (PDF). A study done in the 1980s found that, yup, thought follows suit: kids who spoke Hebrew knew their own genders a year earlier than those who grew up speaking Finnish. (Speakers of English, in which gender referents fall in the middle, were in between on that timeline, too.)
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us here at GlobaNova!
When setting out on any language-related project, one can count on unexpected discoveries and changing perspectives. Our World Valentine project seemed simple to me at the outset – just map ‘I love you” in 100 or so languages onto a world map. I thought of it pretty simply as a Valentine card for my wife.
However, almost immediately, I was struck by the fact that no two sources seem to agree on the proper rendering of such a simple phrase. I would be pleased to hear from those who can correct errors in our choices or suggest reliable authorities. Next, we had to deal with the choice of whether to use native orthography or Romanize everything. We chose to Romanize, but it felt like a shadow of political outlook was creeping into my original light-hearted impulse.
But the real blow landed in choice of languages. Setting out with no goal beyond rendering a selection of languages geographically, I quickly wandered into a thicket. Where did Mongolian go? And many others? Were we bounded by chance and limited space, or less forgivably prey to political naiveté?
For me the crisis hit as we distributed languages across Central and South America. Suddenly, the map, so crowded in other locales, became very sparse. This was not because of a lack of languages. The literature describes great detail of numerous indigenous languages. However, in trying to extract even so simple a phrase as “I love you” I hit a dead end. I started to feel a profound sadness that I would never give them a voice on our valentine. Did I just miss obvious sources? Would searching Spanish or Portuguese sources have helped? Is the absence of indigenous languages consistent across all geographies? I am left with a persistent feeling that missing indigenous languages are a hole in the heart of our World Valentine. On this day of celebrating emotion, let me know how you feel.
If you can correctly pronounce every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he'd prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud. Try them yourself.
With Valentine’s Day coming up in a just a few short days you might be wondering where you should take your significant other. I suggest the I Love You wall in France. The wall spans 400 square feet and boasts over 300 ways to say “I Love You.”
English has a lot of oddly spelled and pronounced words. We have rules, and exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions… Words can even have the same ending but sound worlds apart. This video delves deep into one specific example - the odd word, “doubt”.