MEITS Blog


Is acquiring a second language like acquiring the first?

by Yanyu Guo

Human language has posed great challenges for learning sciences. It has long been noted that children acquire language with relative ease and rapidity and without effort or formal teaching while adult second language (L2) learners cannot. In particular, children show creativity in the course of first language (L1) acquisition, which goes far beyond the input that they are exposed to. This was dubbed as the poverty of the stimulus by Chomsky (1980), with an assertion that human’s knowledge about natural language grammar is supplemented with some sort of innate linguistic capacity. Chomsky (1965) put forth a hypothetical module called the language acquisition device (LAD), which enables human to acquire and produce language.

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“We killed him for being chichipato”: Fernando Vallejo’s politics of linguistic standardization

by Aleksandra (Ola) Gocławska

Probably the most ill-famed Colombian writer, Fernando Vallejo, has laid the foundations for a genre often referred to as la sicaresca antioqueña [the ‘sicaresque’ novel from Antioquia] after the publication of his first novel, La virgen de los sicarios, in 1994. The term, used for the first time by Héctor Abad Faciolince, playfully subverts the meaning of the term picaresca –the Spanish picaresque novel– by substituting the word pícaro [rogue] by sicario [assassin]. While constituting a genre of its own, la sicaresca combines different genres: chronicles, novels or films that revolve around the figures of assasins at service of the drug mafia.

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Spelling and the ongoing standardization of written norms

by John Bellamy

There have been a number of developments in recent months with regard to orthographic norms and standards in written language. The Institut d'Estudis Catalans (IEC) ratified a new set of spelling norms last October, which gave rise to heated debates over changes to the usage of accents (in terms of the diacritic). This January witnessed the death of 111-year old Zhou Youguang, who had played a pivotal role in the development of Pinyin, used for depicting Chinese characters using the Latin alphabetic script. One of the particularly valuable functions of Pinyin is for the teaching of Standard Chinese and a structured, clear, standardized set of writing criteria can be incredibly helpful in the language-learning process.

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Language learning in Anglophone contexts: myths and realities?

by Angela Gayton

I’m sure that on numerous occasions you’ve heard comments from friends, or in the media, about Brits being bad at learning languages – certainly, whenever I’m asked about my research/teaching, and I explain my interest in language-learning attitudes, this is a view raised frequently. Often, this is seen as something to lament (e.g. “Oh, it’s such a pity that we’re so bad at languages!”, or indeed “I wish I could speak another language!”).

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Reality Check: Ukraine’s Multilingualism

by Rory Finnin

For nearly three years, Europe’s largest country has been at war with Europe’s second-largest country. There are many geopolitical and geostrategic reasons for Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine, but the Kremlin often distracts attention from them with the help of one very red herring: Ukraine’s multilingualism.

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Making Mandarin Massive

by Rob Neal

As China impacts British students’ lives more than ever before, it is crucial that more of our young people begin learning Mandarin Chinese. Currently the majority of Mandarin language teaching in UK schools takes place as an extra-curricular activity, often involving very small numbers of students and peripatetic teachers. For example, whereas 150,000 students took GCSE French last year, barely 3,000 took GCSE Mandarin. Moreover, many of these pupils come from Chinese-speaking backgrounds and learn Mandarin at supplementary Chinese weekend schools as opposed to mainstream schools. Overall, the profile of Mandarin learners in UK schools remains skewed towards those from more affluent backgrounds.

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The Earlier the Better?

by Lisa-Maria Müller

There seems to be a general consensus that languages are best learned at a young age and it is not difficult to see where this assumption comes from. Children generally acquire their native languages seemingly effortlessly, all while discovering the world around them. Adults, in contrast, tend to find the learning of languages substantially more challenging, even if they put a lot of effort into the task. Hence the logical conclusion that foreign language learning must be easier for children than adults, which explains why the starting age for language learning in schools has consistently been lowered over the past decades. Great. Answer found, case closed, let’s move on. Right? Well, it’s not so easy. The problem with the assumption mentioned above is that it is based on a comparison between first language acquisition and second language learning instead of comparing like with like. That is, students who have started to learn foreign languages early in their school careers and those who have only been exposed to them later in life.

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Bilingualism and Speech & Language Disorders

by Özge Öztürk

Recent research on bilingualism has shown that learning two or more languages at once, far from being a disadvantage, is associated with multiple benefits, as long as the child has sufficient support to maintain all of his/her languages (Uljarević et al., 2016). The bilingual experience has been associated with higher educational achievement (Multilingual Britain, 2013), improved social use of language (Antoniou & Katsos, in press), and enhanced cognitive flexibility, symbolic representation, and other forms of executive control (Bialystok et al., 2009). These benefits are most likely due to the increased demand required for managing multiple languages on a day-to-day basis.

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