Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chinese: The New Dominant Language of the Internet

Chinese: The New Dominant Language of the Internet (Infographic, created by The Next Web Asia)

"China gained 36 million additional internet users last year meaning there are now over 440 million internet users in the country. English has long been the most widely used language on the internet but with Chinese Internet growth rising at the rate it is, it could be less than five years before Chinese becomes the dominant language on the internet."

This has been picked up by numerous websites and blogs as "news" although it's based on dated information from the "Internet World Stats" website.

The Atlantic reports it. The most interesting part is reader discussion.

In the same vein, you might find interesting what Google's Eric Schmidt had to say in 2009 on What the Web Will Look Like in 5 Years

"Google CEO Eric Schmidt envisions a radically changed internet five years from now: dominated by Chinese-language and social media content, delivered over super-fast bandwidth in real time.

Highlighted comments include:

Five years from now the internet will be dominated by Chinese-language content.
Today's teenagers are the model of how the web will work in five years - they jump from app to app to app seamlessly. Five years is a factor of ten in Moore's Law, meaning that computers will be capable of far more by that time than they are today.
Within five years there will be broadband well above 100MB in performance - and distribution distinctions between TV, radio and the web will go away. "We're starting to make significant money off of Youtube", content will move towards more video."

I personally think that Mr. Schmidt has lived on the bleeding edge (of technology) for far too long to have an intact sense of reality but there is some wisdom (and optimism) in his words and I'd certainly take the 100Mbps Internet connection. The FCC envisages the wonderful 100Mbps world in 2020: link

Going back to the source for the first Internet domination article, we can glean some interesting information:

Top Ten Languages Used "in" the Web


Number of Internet Users by language & Internet Penetration

English 536,564,837 42.0 %
Chinese 444,948,013 32.6 %
Spanish 153,309,074 36.5 %
Japanese 99,143,700 78.2 %
Portuguese 82,548,200 33.0 %
German 75,158,584 78.6 %
Arabic 65,365,400 18.8 %
French 59,779,525 17.2 %
Russian 59,700,000 42.8 %
Korean 39,440,000 55.2 %

I'll add these two as well:

Turkish 35,000,000 45%
Italian 30,000,000 51.7%

TOP 10 LANGUAGES 1,615,957,333 36.4 %
Rest of the Languages: 350,557,483, 14.6 %
WORLD TOTAL: 1,966,514,816, 28.7 %

It is interesting to compare these statistics with those from 1998:


Number of speakers (2010)

The Internet World Stats website states that "tallying the number of speakers of the world's languages is an increasingly complex task". I'd say that they have been very draconian with Russian and perhaps a bit too generous with Chinese, Arabic and French.

1 English 1,277,528,133
2 Chinese 1,365,524,982
3 Spanish 420,469,703
4 French 347,932,305
5 Arabic 347,002,991
6 Portuguese 250,372,925
7 Russian 139,390,205
8 Japanese 126,804,433
9 German 95,637,049
10 Korean 71,393,343

TOP 10 LANGUAGES 4,442,056,069
Rest of the Languages 2,403,553,891
World Total 6,845,609,960

One metric I find especially interesting is the number of pages available in a particular language. Unfortunately the available information is not very recent:

Chart of Web content (milions of webpages by language) in 2002

Language Percentage

English 56.4
German 7.7
French 5.6
Japanese 4.9
Spanish 3.0
Chinese 2.4
Italian 2.0
Dutch 1.9
Russian 1.7
Korean 1.5
Portuguese 1.5
Swedish 0.7
Polish 0.7
Danish 0.6
Czech 0.6
Turkish 0.2
Hungarian 0.2
Greek 0.1
Other 8.3

Source: Sprachen und ihre Verbreitung im World-Wide-Web (

Alternate Link (in German)

EDIT: A few things have changed from the now distant 2010 (and 2002)

1 English 53.6%
2 Russian 6.4%
3 German 5.6%
4 Japanese 5.1%
5 Spanish 4.9%
6 French 4.1%
7 Portuguese 2.5%
8      Italian 2.1%
9 Chinese 1.9%
10 Polish 1.8%
11 Turkish 1.8%
12 Dutch 1.4%
13 Persian 1.2%
14 Arabic 0.8%
15 Czech 0.8%

Estimated percentages of the top 10.1 million websites using various content languages as of May 6, 2016.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Want to Speak Like a Native Speaker

I Want to Speak Like a Native Speaker:
The Case for Lowering the Plaintiff’s Burden of Proof in Title VII Accent Discrimination Cases

"Discrimination on the basis of a person’s foreign accent has been found to be prohibited in certain instances under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. With the steady influx of non-native speakers of English into the United States, this area of the law is likely to see an increase in litigation in the coming years. However, more often than not, plaintiffs in accent discrimination cases are unsuccessful in winning their claim. Using linguistic, demographic, and economic research, this Note argues that a plaintiff’s burden of proving accent discrimination should be lowered, in order to deter employers from discriminating against accented speakers. This in turn would better integrate immigrants into American society, allowing them to reach their full potential, at least in terms of employment.

“I pray every night before I go to bed, I want to speak like a native speaker as soon as possible"1

1Coming to America—Eye-Opening Experiences Mold Young Immigrants, SEATTLE TIMES, June 2, 1992, at F3 [hereinafter Coming to America] (spoken by Young Park, a Korean immigrant).

Sophia Poskocil is a middle-aged woman and a native of Bogotá, Columbia. She received her high school and college education in Columbia and, though her native tongue is Spanish, she speaks English fluently. From 1989 through 1991, Poskocil attended Hollins College, in Virginia, on a part-time basis. She qualified for a teaching certification from the Virginia Department of Education...Over the span of six years, Poskocil applied to a total of nineteen positions with Roanoke County schools, but was denied employment each time. On March 20, 1996, she filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing the school division of national origin3 and age discrimination.4 During the trial, evidence was introduced that the school district based its decision not to hire Poskocil on student evaluations. Students in Poskocil’s Northside High School class complained that Poskocil was difficult to understand because of her foreign accent. In their evaluations, students wrote, among other things, that the “instructor [Sophia Poskocil] barely spoke English, [and] was hard to understand.”5
Ultimately, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the school district, stating that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the county
discriminated against her.6 What is disturbing about the case is that Poskocil was not applying to teach a high school English class, which might have made the students’ complaints more relevant, but rather Poskocil was applying to teach Spanish classes.7 Moreover, it appears that no one at her trial had a difficult time understanding her. However, her apparently substantial foreign accent and the school district’s argument that Poskocil’s accent interfered with her communication skills led the Poskocil court to find that Roanoke County relied on a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for not hiring her.8"

Additional information (by me):

Virginia (Roanoke): Minority Discrimination Suit Dismissed (dead link)
"In her lawsuit filed last year, Sophia Poskocil (from Colombia) said that, beginning in 1992, she applied for 19 positions, but the school system never interviewed her because English wasn't her first language. In dismissing Ms. Poskocil’s lawsuit Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson noted that each of the 19 teachers who was hired instead of Poskocil 'held a master's degree, was qualified for dual or triple certification, had strong interview performances, more extensive educational experiences and course work, or better references than Poskocil.'" (Roanoke Times, 01-13-99, by Michael Hemphill)
[former link]

"To be sure, there are countless Sophia Poskocils whose stories never make it into the hallowed halls of U.S. courts, let alone into the pages of law review articles.

(Comment: Possibly more deserving ones? The evidence listed in judge's ruling should have sufficed, the negative comments about plaintiff's English were unnecessary. The case however still illustrates well the murky side of U.S. employment practices).

Proving discrimination under the Title VII proof scheme is a difficult task, as evidenced by the discussion of the case above.9 This Note will take a critical look at the developments in Title VII foreign accent10 discrimination cases. I will argue that rapid changes in the demographic landscape of the United States, specifically the increased influx of immigrants from non-English speaking countries, makes combating accent discrimination11 more important than ever..."

"Most immigrants come to the United States because they are searching for better job opportunities and the possibility of getting higher wages than in their country of origin.112 They tend to be younger113 and less educated114 than native-born individuals. Moreover, most immigrants will earn lower wages than the average person in the United States.115

However, some immigrants, such as Sophia Poskocil and Manuel Fragante, come to the United States highly skilled and with advanced education. Often times skilled immigrants find themselves underemployed because of their “lack” of English skills, or as this Note is arguing, perceived lack of English skills due to their foreign accent.116"

"The most famous accent discrimination case to date took place in the Hawaiian Islands. In Fragante v. City & County of Honolulu, the plaintiff, Manual Fragante, applied for a job with the Honolulu Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Fragante “placed high enough on a civil service” exam, to make him eligible to be chosen for the position.74 However, Fragante was not selected for the position, because “of a perceived deficiency in relevant oral communication skills caused by his ‘heavy Filipino accent.’”75

Manuel Fragante’s story is in many ways inspirational. In 1981, at the age of sixty, Fragante immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, his birth home. By all accounts Fragante was an intelligent and educated man. He had a law degree, spoke four languages, and was an officer in the Philippine military.76 Throughout his military career he was invited to attend prestigious U.S. military schools, where he frequently performed better than his American counterparts. During his years of serving with the U.S. military, there were never any complaints about Fragante’s accent. His English language ability was rated as “excellent” by his military superiors. Fragante’s strong command of the English language can be attributed to the fact that all his schooling in the Philippines was in English."

"Manuel Fragante’s positive experiences with his American colleagues made him think about emigrating to the United States. In the early 1980s, his daughter was already living in Hawaii and in April 1981, he and his wife immigrated to the United States. He was subsequently naturalized as a U.S. citizen.78
Not wanting to sit at home, Fragante applied for an advertised position at the DMV and as stated above was rejected for the position. At the oral interview, Fragante’s two interviewers were not impressed with his oral communication skills. Both noted his “very pronounced accent” and felt that it would interfere with performing the functions of the job. As a result, they did not recommend Fragante for the position and another applicant was hired.79 As in Poskocil, the court held in favor of the employer, noting that the DMV appeared to have acted on “reasonable business necessity,” since Fragante “would be less able than his competition to perform the required duties” of the job.80

What leads one to pause for a moment (or two!) when reading the case is that Fragante not only “placed high enough” on the civil service exam to qualify to be considered for the DMV position, but scored the highest score of the 721 test takers.81 Perhaps more importantly, Fragante did not apply for a supervisory or managerial position at the DMV, but for an entry-level clerk’s job. The clerk position “involved such tasks as filing, processing mail, cashiering, orally providing routine information to the ‘sometimes contentious’ public over the telephone and at an information counter, and obtaining supplies.”82 Furthermore, a study of the position was conducted by the DMV..."

"Sulochana Mandhare earned two bachelor’s degrees in her native India, one of which was in education. After she immigrated to the United States, she obtained a Master’s of Education degree from Loyola University in New Orleans and received certification as a school librarian. Mandhare was employed as a librarian at an elementary school serving children from kindergarten through second grade. After one year of employment the school district decided not to renew her contract, stating that Mandhare had “a communication problem because of her heavy accent . . . which prevented her from effectively communicating with primary school students.”118 The district court found that the school district discriminated against Mandhare and held in her favor, stating that she was “eminently qualified” to be a librarian.119 However, the appeals court reversed without an opinion, leaving Mandhare in a state of “untold emotional anguish [and] financial difficulty.”120
Accented professionals do not fare much better in the United States. In Hou v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, the plaintiff was originally from China and had his Ph.D. in mathematics.121 Dr. Hou was refused promotion on the basis that his accent hindered his teaching effectiveness. The court noted that “[t]he issue of accent in a foreign-born person of another race is a concededly delicate subject when it becomes part of peer or student evaluations, since many people are prejudiced against those with accents.”122"

As already illustrated in the discussions about Poskocil149 and Fragante,150 customer or co-worker’s preference arguments routinely enter into the opinion of the courts in these contexts. For example, in Ang v. Proctor & Gamble,151 the Sixth Circuit rejected a Chinese-American plaintiff’s claim of accent discrimination,152 despite evidence that Proctor & Gamble (P&G) appeared to have had at least a disparaging attitude toward non-native speakers of English. P&G’s “Company Norms” brochure at the time stated “that the inability to speak the ‘King’s English’ may be viewed by those in the majority culture as equating to intelligence (i.e. lack of),”153 suggesting that accented speakers better get rid off their accent in order to be seen as smart and arguably therefore worthy of advancement.


84 "Interestingly, the linguist, who sat through Fragante’s trial, noted that during the proceedings attorneys for both sides made mistakes in grammar and sentence structure, including the judge. When reviewing the transcript of the trial, the linguist further found that Fragante’s English “was more nearly perfect in standard grammar and syntax than any other speaker in the courtroom.” In addition, at no point in the trial did anyone state that they could not understand Fragante’s speech. Id. at 1338."

(Comment: that must have made him many friends)

"At trial a linguist testified that Fragante speaks grammatically correct, standard English, with an accent that is characteristic of someone who was born and raised in the Philippines. The linguist concluded that a non-prejudiced speaker of English would have no trouble understanding Fragante.84 Despite this, the defendant maintained that the plaintiff did not “speak clearly” and as stated above the district court and, more importantly, the Ninth Circuit sided with the defendant.85 Based on the evidence in the case, the outcome of the case is highly questionable.
"According to linguist Rosina Lippi-Green, claims by accent reduction classes to eliminate accents “is an insupportable claim.” See LIPPI-GREEN, supra note 86, at 140. Moreover, these classes can be primarily found in the New York and in southern States and are frequented by accented professionals. Id. at 140. While claims of completely eradicating one’s accent seem unsupportable, claims of a 50% reduction in accent seem more realistic."

"Linguist Rosina Lippi-Green notes that one needs to differentiate between two kinds of accents, namely a first language (L1) and second language (L2) accent. L1 accent is considered to be a variety of spoken U.S. English. Moreover, “every native speaker of US English has an L1 accent, no matter how unmarked the person’s language may seem to be.” ROSINA LIPPI-GREEN, ENGLISH WITH AN ACCENT: LANGUAGE, IDEOLOGY, AND DISCRIMINATION IN THE UNITED STATES 43 (1997)."

103 "Everyone has an accent, hence it may not be proper to speak of “accent-free” language. When employer’s refuse to hire a person because of his or her “accent”, the employer is “referring to a hidden norm of non-accent—a linguistic impossibility, but a socially constructed reality.” Matsuda, supra note 9, at 1361."

"A number of studies have analyzed how native speakers perceive the speech of non-native speakers.167 Studies have shown that persons with a foreign accent from certain countries were perceived to be “significantly less successful.”168 For example, a Swedish study demonstrated that when the listener was told the accent they heard was from a Kurd, the speaker was perceived as less successful than when the listener was told that the speaker was German, although the same person was speaking.169 Linguists have found that native speakers will often attach “cultural meanings to an accent which derive from the stereotypes and prejudices that the listener holds toward the race or ethnic group associated with that accent.”170 Speakers with accents of Western European countries, for example, appear to be less discriminated against than non-native speakers from less developed countries.171

"Moreover, hostility by some individuals toward accented speakers will likely mean that employers will continue to include customer preference as a defense if courts allow defendants to do so. Perceived problems on the part of customers with employees who are L2 speakers are widely documented. Whether it is at the doctor’s office or fast-food drive-throughs, native speaking customers are apparently “frustrated” more than ever by having to “communicate with people who aren’t from here.”178 However, one should not read too much into these “frustrations.” As linguist Rosina Lippi-Green’s notes, “breakdown of communication is due not so much to accent as it is to negative social evaluation of the accent in question, and a rejection of the communicative burden” on the part of the listener.179 Moreover, this assertion is supported by other research that shows that “a strong foreign accent does not necessarily reduce the intelligibility or comprehensibility of speech produced by non-native speakers.”180"

(COMMENT: While I may sympathize with the cause, accent is often a major cause of "frustrated attempts at communication", or "unsuccessful attempts at communication under frustrating circumstances". The customer may be a short-tempered jerk, employee language skills and accent often result in poor service and plenty of native speakers provide terrible service on a daily basis.)

"178 Gary Strauss, Can’t Anyone Here Speak English? Consumers Frustrated by Verbal Gridlock, USA TODAY, Feb. 28, 1997, at 1A. The article includes a number of testimonials from customers who have had bad experiences with people “who spoke poor English.” For example, a Ohio customer experienced the following at a fast food store: “You’re sitting there trying to order McNuggets. How can someone not understand that? You just get fed up and drive off.” Another unhappy experience occurred when a “barber who spoke poor English” was told to give a twelve-year-old a “trim.” The boy came home with a shaved head. Id. However, it needs to be pointed out that in the incidents listed above the non-native speakers apparently had more than just heavy accents, but rather were beginners of speaking English. Moreover, every day experiences tell us that these misunderstandings can happen even when both the customer and the employee are native speakers."

"...However, whether there is an economic benefit to being bilingual is unclear, at least when your native language is not English. For example, a Canadian study suggests that speaking both French and English, rather than just English, has no benefit in terms of earning higher wages. In fact, native French-speaking Canadian men still earned less after learning English than their monolingual English speaking Canadian counterparts. Geoffrey Carliner, Wage Differences by Language Group and the Market for Language Skills in Canada, J. HUMAN RESOURCES 384 (1981)."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Focused tasks, mental actions and second language learning

Focused tasks, mental actions and second language learning. Cognitive and connectionist accounts of task effectiveness


This paper presents a theoretical framework to estimate the effectiveness of second language tasks in which the focus is on the acquisition of new linguistic items, such as vocabulary or grammar, the so-called focused tasks (R. Ellis 2003). What accounts for the learning impact of focused tasks? We shall argue that the task-based approach (e.g. Skehan, 1988, Robinson, 2001) does not provide an in-depth account of how cognitive processes, elicited by a task, foster the acquistion of new linguistic elements. We shall then review the typologies of cognitive processes derived from research on learning strategies (Chamot & O'Mally, 1994), from the involvement load hypothesis (Laufer & Hulstijn, 2001), from the depth of processing hypothesis (Craik & Lockhart, 1972) and from connectionism (e.g. Broeder & Plunkett, 1997; N. Ellis, 2003). The combined insight of these typologies form the basis of the multi-feature hypothesis, which predicts that retention and ease of activation of new linguistic items are improved by mental actions which involve a wide variety of different features, simultaneously and frequently. A number of implications for future research shall be discussed.

The Whats, Whys, Hows and Whos of Content-Based Instruction

The Whats, Whys, Hows and Whos of Content-Based Instructionin Second/Foreign Language Education
University of Murcia


"As an instructional practice in second and foreign language education, content-based instruction is not a fully revolutionary paradigm, but a spin-off approach which derives from the evolution of Communicative Language Teaching. Sharing with CLT the same fundamental principles, CBI bases its idiosyncrasy on promoting the use of subject matter for second/foreign language teaching purposes. This article aims at exploring the nature and scope of the content-based methodological framework —the whats—, the theoretical foundations that support it —the whys—, and the different prototype models for application in compliance with parameters such as institutional requirements, educational level, and the particular nature and object of instruction
—the hows. Additionally, it will also undertake a review of a copious number of references selected from the existing literature, mostly contributed by researchers and experienced practitioners in the field —the whos.

The language pedagogy arena can by no means be conceived nowadays without “the very robust contribution of communicative methodology to the language teaching community” (Pica, 2000: 4). Although some other alternative approaches have emerged in recent years —such as the lexical approach (Lewis, 1993) and the context approach (Bax, 2003)—, it is commonly agreed that the fundamentals of communicative language teaching (hereafter CTL) have remained healthily operational for the past three decades. In line with this, Richards (2002: 5) states that CLT “has survived into the new millennium. Because it refers to a diverse set of rather general and uncontroversial principles, Communicative Language Teaching can be interpreted in many different ways and used to support a wide variety of classroom procedures”.
According to communicative principles, attaining communicative competence that would
allow learners to operate effectively in the new language was set as the main goal of instruction. At the same time, using the language to communicate was seen as the best way to learn it. Under this canon, meaningful communication became both the target to reach and the medium to do so: CLT therefore came to refer to both aims and processes in language teaching and learning.

Communicative Language Teaching has spawned a number of off-shoots that share the same basic set of principles, but which spell out philosophical details or envision instructional practices in somewhat diverse ways. These CLT spin-off approaches include The Natural Approach, Cooperative Language Learning, Content-Based Teaching, and Task-Based Teaching. Rodgers (2001: 2)

Content-based approaches suggest that optimal conditions for learning a second/foreign language occur when both the target language and some meaningful content are integrated in the classroom, the language therefore being both an immediate object of study in itself, and a medium for learning a particular subject matter. In content-based language teaching, therefore, teachers use content topics rather than grammar rules, vocabulary spheres, operative functions or contextual situations as the framework for instruction...

Leaver and Stryker (1989: 270) define CBI as an instructional approach in which “language proficiency is achieved by shifting the focus of the course from the learning of language per se to the learning of subject matter”. Short (1993: 629), for her part, states that “In content-based instruction, language teachers use content topics, rather than grammar rules or vocabulary lists, as the scaffolding for instruction”.

As for the question of what qualifies as content in CBI, it is very common for it to be some kind of subject matter related to the students’ own academic curriculum in primary, secondary or tertiary education. The second or foreign language can be consequently used as the medium of instruction for literature, history, mathematics, science, social studies, or any other academic subject at any educational context or level. Nevertheless, this is not the only option available for, as some authors suggest, the content “. . . needs not be academic; it can include any topic, theme, or non-language issue of interest or importance to the learners” (Genesee, 1994: 3).

Regarding second language acquisition research, some authors (among others Krashen,
1984; Savignon, 1983; Snow, 1993; Wesche, 1993) have suggested that (. . .) a second language is most successfully acquired when the conditions mirror those present in first language acquisition, that is, when the focus of instruction is on meaning rather than on form; when the language input is at or just above the competence of the student, and when there is sufficient opportunity for students to engage in meaningful use of that language in a relatively anxiety-free environment. Dupuy (2000: 206) A major source of support for CBI derives from the work of some researchers in the area of SLA, particularly from the postulates of Krashen and Swain.

In extremely abridged terms, the theories of Krashen (1982, 1984, 1895) claim that second language acquisition occurs when the learner receives comprehensible input, not when he or she is forced to memorize vocabulary or manipulate language by means of batteries of grammar exercises.

In addition to receiving comprehensible input, researchers such as Swain (1985, 1993)
support that, in order for learners to develop communicative competence, they must also have the opportunity of using the new language productively, both orally and in writing. In line with this, scope to produce comprehensible and coherent output is constantly offered in CBI, as students are systematically pushed to produce language that is appropriate in terms of both content and language.

The appropriateness of grammar exploitation in CBI is reviewed in detail by Brinton and Holten (2001) by examining the different arguments and counter-arguments regarding its pertinence within the approach. The conclusion reached is that grammar instruction is optimally compatible with CBI methodology...

As extensive reading is an integral part of CBI, some findings in extensive reading
research have also claimed the benefits of this methodological approach. Studies in the area provide evidence that reading of coherent extended materials promotes language development and content learning. Elley (1991) has supplied sound evidence that second and foreign language learners who practice extensive reading across a variety of topics increase their language abilities in the four basic skills, expand their vocabulary, and acquire greater content knowledge and higher motivation.

Cognitive psychology reveals that when students are exposed to coherent and meaningful information, and when they have opportunities to elaborate the information, their linkages are more complex and recall is better (Anderson, 1990). Moreover, research in learning theory (Anderson, 1993) reinforces teaching approaches which combine the development of language and content knowledge, and practice in using that knowledge.

Motivation and interest research has found out that “motivation and interest come, in part, from the recognition that (1) one is actually learning and that (2) one is learning something valuable and challenging that justifies the effort” (Dupuy, 2000: 207). In line with this, CBI attempts to respond to the needs and interests of learners by focusing either on subject matter that is related to their own pedagogical or academic needs, or on content spheres which are associated with the students’ cognitive and affective preferences. Research claims as well that those students who are more motivated, who develop an interest in learning aims and practices, and who see themselves as capable and successful students, learn more and obtain better results (Alexander et al., 1994; Tobias, 1994; Krapp et al., 1992). Furthermore, according to these authors, students with high levels of motivation make more sophisticated elaborations with learning material, increase connections among content information, and are able to recall information more easily and better..."

Learning from implicit learning literature

Learning from implicit learning literature: Comment on Shea, Wulf, Whitacre, and Park (2001)

Pierre Perruchet, Stephanie Chambaron, and Carole Ferrel-Chapus
University of Burgundy, Dijon, France

"In their analysis of complex motor skill learning, Shea, Wulf, Whitacre, and Park (2001) have overlooked one of the most robust conclusions of the experimental studies on implicit learning conducted during the last decade—namely that participants usually learn things that are different from those that the experimenter expected them to learn."

(Comment: that's perhaps one of the strongest points in favor of implicit learning)

"We show that the available literature on implicit learning strongly suggests that the improved performance in Shea et al.’s Experiments 1 and 2 (and similar earlier experiments, e.g., Wulf & Schmidt, 1997) was due to the exploitation of regularities in the target pattern different from those on which the postexperimental interview focused. This rules out the conclusions drawn from the failure of this interview to reveal any explicit knowledge about the task structure on the part of the participants. Similarly, because the information about the task structure provided to an instructed group of participants in Shea et al.’s Experiment 2 did not concern the regularities presumably exploited by the standard, so-called implicit, group, Shea et al.’s claim that explicit knowledge may be less effective than implicit knowledge is misleading."

The neural basis of lexicon and grammar in first and second language

The neural basis of lexicon and grammar in first and second language: the declarative/procedural model
Michael T. Ullman

Also mentioned here
Acquisition vs. learning and physiology of second language acquisition were mentioned here

Another Ullman study, Contributions of memory circuits to language: here


Theoretical and empirical aspects of the neural bases of the mental lexicon and the mental grammar in first and second language (L1 and L2) are discussed. It is argued that in L1, the learning, representation, and processing of lexicon and grammar depend on two well-studied brain memory systems. According to the declarative/procedural model, lexical memory depends upon declarative memory, which is rooted in temporal lobe structures, and has been implicated in the learning and use of fact and event knowledge. Aspects of grammar are subserved by procedural memory, which is rooted in left frontal/basal-ganglia structures, and has been implicated in the acquisition and expression of motor and cognitive skills and habits. This view is supported by psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic evidence. In contrast, linguistic forms whose grammatical computation depends upon procedural memory in L1 are posited to be largely dependent upon declarative/lexical memory in L2. They may be either memorized or constructed by explicit rules learned in declarative memory. Thus in L2, such linguistic forms should be less dependent on procedural memory, and more dependent on declarative memory, than in L1. Moreover, this shift to declarative memory is expected to increase with increasing age of exposure to L2, and with less experience (practice) with the language, which is predicted to improve the learning of grammatical rules by procedural memory. A retrospective examination of lesion, neuroimaging, and electrophysiological studies investigating the neural bases of L2 is presented. It is argued that the data from these studies support the predictions of the declarative/procedural model.

Age Effects in Second Language Acquisition

Age Effects in Second Language Acquisition : Overview
Rieko Matsuoka, Ian Smith

Abstract Age has been regarded as an important factor in acquiring second languages successfully as well as in acquiring first languages. In this review article, previous studies regarding age and language acquisition are examined, and the ways in which age may affect the process of acquiring a second language are discussed. For instance, some previous research( e.g., Johnson & Newport, 1989) evidenced the strong negative correlation(r > |-.7|) between age of acquisition/arrival and accuracy or native-like proficiency, which means the younger learners are, the more native-like they become. This correlation supports the critical period hypothesis. The focus of this study is on examining whether the critical period hypothesis
in first language acquisition is valid in second language acquisition. Some studies have revealed that adult learners whose age of acquisition/arrival is after puberty are not successful in acquiring a native-like proficiency in a second language, which again supports the critical period hypothesis; whilst others have shown cases where adult learners reached a native-like proficiency, thus refuting the critical period hypothesis. Finally, some pedagogical implications are drawn, using previous interdisciplinary studies in areas such as neuropsychology and phonology. These implications may help adult learners wanting to enhance their proficiency in a second language.

Second language acquisition researchers differ over when the critical period/sensitive period comes to an end. In first language acquisition research, as Lenneberg( 1967) posits, the critical period ends at puberty, and humans are believed to fail to acquire a first language in cases where they are unable to expose
themselves to a human language before puberty, which is illustrated by Genie’s case in some pieces of literature( e.g. Brown, 1968; Jones, 1995). In second language acquisition, some researchers( e.g. Birdsong, 2006, Birdsong & Park, In Press) claim the cutting-off age should be at puberty or at 12 years of age, the same as in first language acquisition. However, others postulate a younger age such as six years old( e.g. Long, 1990) or an older one such as 18 years old( e.g. Bialystok &
Hakuta, 1994) as the terminal point of the critical period/sensitive period, depending on the focal area of acquisition, i.e., whether in phonology/pronunciation( in the younger case) or mophosyntax/grammar( in the older case).

Different in character from first language acquisition, which humans undergo unconsciously, second language acquisition becomes more difficult and is rarely entirely successful after a certain period, i.e., the critical period/sensitive period. Selinker (1972) named this phenomenon fossilization. Many second language learners fail to reach target-language competence and establish their own internalized rule system, which is called interlanguage( Selinker, 1972). Ellis( 1994) suggests that age is one of the internal factors of fossilization, arguing that
learners reach a critical age when their brains lose plasticity and certain linguistic features cannot be mastered.

Ellis( 1994, p. 494) consolidated his research into age and second language acquisition and made proposals in six areas – in (a) sensory acuity,( b) neurological factors,( c) affectivemotivational factors,( d) cognitive factors,( e) input, and( f) storage. In terms of sensory acuity, children or younger learners
are better in their ability to perceive and segment sounds in a second language. This leads to more native-like pronunciation among younger learners. Neurologically, loss of plasticity or lateralization and cerebral maturation, which occur at certain
ages, have been proved to affect learners’ abilities to acquire both pronunciation and grammar. Certain ages are the cuttingoff points for the so-called ‘critical period’ or ‘sensitive period’. Therefore, neurological structure may affect both pronunciation and grammar. Regarding affective and motivational factors, child learners are, in general, more strongly motivated to communicate with native speakers and to integrate culturally because they are less conscious and suffer less from anxiety about communicating in a second language. In cognitive areas, points for the so-called ‘critical period’ or ‘sensitive period’. Therefore, neurological structure may affect both pronunciation and grammar. Regarding affective and motivational factors, child learners are, in general, more strongly motivated to
communicate with native speakers and to integrate culturally because they are less conscious and suffer less from anxiety about communicating in a second language. In cognitive areas, children use their language acquisition device, while adult
learners rely on inductive learning abilities in learning a second language. In the process of inputting the language information, children input it more efficiently than adults, who may utilize more negotiation of meaning. Lastly the difference exists in the means of storage. Young children store first language and second language information separately and become coordinate bilinguals whilst adult learners store first language and second language knowledge together and become compound bilinguals. Coordinate bilinguals can use both languages automatically
whilst compound bilinguals cannot.

Brain-based evidence has been also coordinated with second language research in recent studies( e.g. Birdsong, 2006 for review; Ullman, 2001, 2007), looking at whether the process of second language acquisition is conducted in the same
way as, a similar way to or a different way from the process of first language acquisition.

Selinger( 1978) proposes, there may be multiple critical/sensitive periods for different aspects of language.

Oyama(1976) examined 60 male learners who had immigrated to the United States. Their ages ranged from 6 to 20 years old and they had lived there for between 5 and 18 years. Two adult native speakers judged the ‘native-ness’ of the learners’ accents during a reading-aloud task and during free speech. The results showed a
significant negative correlation in ‘age of arrival and acquisition’, which meant that the younger their age of arrival was, the more authentic the accent they acquired. For instance, the youngest arrivals were rated the same as native speakers. However, no significant relationship was found between the length of stay and their accent.

Similar results have been provided from studies in morphosyntax/grammar, but in their studies the cutting-off age for the critical/sensitive period is later or older than the studies on pronunciation. Patkowski (1980) investigated 67 immigrants to the United States, finding that learners who had entered the United States before the age of 15 were rated as more proficient in grammar than learners who had entered after the age of 15.

The range of adult group scores was smaller than the range of child group scores. In addition, Patkowski examined the effects of the length of the stay in the United States, the amount of informal exposure to English and the amount of formal instruction. Neither the length of the stay nor the amount of formal instruction provided a significant effect but the amount of informal exposure did have a significant effect, though this was much less significant than the age factor.

In a similar line to Patkowski( 1980), Johnson & Newport (1989) investigated 46 native Koreans and Chinese who had immigrated in the United States between the ages of 3 and 39, using an aural grammaticality judgment test. Half of them arrived there before the age of 15 and the other half arrived after the age of 17. The participants were asked to judge the grammaticality of 276 spoken sentences. The results indicated a negative correlation between age at arrival and judgment scores, which was – 0.77, meaning that the later the learner arrived, the lower the score they got. However, one difference from Patkowski’s study was that the scores of the younger group varied less than those of the adult group. Also, neither the number of years of exposure to English nor the amount of classroom instruction was related to the grammaticality judgment scores. Johnson( 1992) followed up on the study by Johnson & Newport( 1989) by using the same participants in the earlier study a year later with written tests, working on the belief that written test materials eliminated extragrammatical properties that were present in the auditory materials. The results showed a negative correlation( r = – 0.54) between age of arrival and performance, and suggested that the grammatical knowledge of young learners is native or near-native whereas that attained by older learners is ill-formed or incomplete. Thus, the critical period effects could be found in a test of grammar with a minimum number of extragrammatical properties.

DeKeyser (2000) tested the fundamental differencebhypothesis (Bley-Vroman, 1988), which states that while children are known to learn a language almost completely through implicit domain-specific mechanisms, adults have largely lost the ability to learn a language without reflecting on its structure and they have to use alternative mechanisms, drawing especially on their problem-solving capacities, to learn a second language. The hypothesis implies that only adults with a high level of ‘verbal analytical’ ability will reach near-native competence in their second language, but that this ability is not a significant predictor of success in childhood second language acquisition. A study of 57 adult Hungarian-speaking immigrants confirmed the hypothesis. Very few adult immigrants scored in the range achieved by child arrivals in a grammaticality judgment test.

Harley (1986) investigated the levels of attainment of children in French bilingual programs in Canada, focusing on the learners’ acquisition of French verb rules. She compared early and late immersion students after both had received 1,000 hours of instruction, using data from interviews, a story repetition task and a translation task. The older students demonstrated better overall control. However, at the end of their schooling, the early immersion group showed higher levels of ability than the older group.

The morpheme studies( Bailey, Madden & Krashen, 1974; Fathman, 1975) showed that the order of acquisition of English morphemes was the same for children and adults. They showed that adults go through the same stages of acquisition of morphemes as children and therefore age does not appear to be a factor here.

Cummins( 1981) formulated the ‘interdependency principle’ to refer to the idea that cognitive academic language proficiency( CALP) is common across languages, and can therefore easily be transferred from first language use to second language use by the learner.

Ioup, Boustagui, El Tigi & Moselle( 1994) examined the linguistic competence of an adult second language learner of Egyptian Arabic, who was first exposed to the target language after the end of the critical period. The participant in this study
had acquired native-like proficiency in an untutored learning context. To determine her level of achievement more exactly, her performance in various linguistic areas was compared to that of both native speakers and a highly proficient, tutored learner of Egyptian Arabic. The results suggested that a reexamination for the critical period hypothesis might be necessary.

Harley & Hart( 1997), examined the relationship between language aptitude components and second language outcomes among learners whose intensive second language exposure began at different ages. This empirical study showed the different
learning styles among early and late immersion groups, without agreeing or disagreeing with the existence of the critical/sensitive period hypothesis.

This study presented evidence in support of the view that different cognitive abilities tend to be associated with relative second language success in early and late immersion programs. The eventual second language proficiency outcomes from early
immersion were more closely associated with memory abilities, and later immersion outcomes with analytical language ability.

Regarding the critical ages for acquisition, according to several researchers( e.g. Ellis, 1994; Long, 1990) acquiring native-like pronunciation is possible until the age of 6 – the final age for arrival and acquisition. On the other hand, native-like
grammatical/morphosyntactical competence should be possible up to the age of 15( e.g. Patkowski, 1980). As Selinger( 1978) proposes, there may be multiple critical/sensitive periods for different aspects of language.

Pinker( 1994) makes the following note. Acquisition of a normal languag (phonology) is guaranteed for children up to the age of six, is steadily compromised from then until shortly after puberty, and is rare thereafter. Maturational changes in the brain, such as the decline in metabolic rate and the number of neurons during early school-age years, and the bottoming out of the number of synapses and metabolic rate around puberty, are plausible causes(. p. 293) On the other hand, the most recent neurocognitive evidence has indicated the mechanism that manages language in the brain’s system. Ullman( 2007) argues as follows. In first language, lexical knowledge depends on the declarative memory brain system, which underlies semantic and episodic knowledge, and is rooted in temporal-lobe structures. Grammar in first language relies rather on the procedural memory system, which subserves motor and cognitive skills, and is rooted in frontal/basalganglia circuits. In contrast, evidence suggests that in later-learned second language, learners initially depend largely on declarative memory, not only for lexical knowledge, but also for the use of complex forms. However, with increasing experience second language learners show procedural learning of grammatical rules,
becoming first language-like. Importantly, because the behavioral, computational, anatomical and physiological bases of the two memory systems are reasonably well-understood, including the nature of forgetting of knowledge and skills in these systems, we can make relatively specific predictions about language, including with respect to language attrition.( p. 9).

Thus, second language learners are unable to acquire the target language as long as they use the declarative brain memory system for its grammatical rules. As Ullman( 2007) points out, through experience, second language learners come to make use of the procedural memory system. Neurocognitive researchers have presented these findings as reliable through the use of advanced technology, which makes them persuasive. Given that first language grammar is dealt with in this procedural memory system, the so-called universal grammar( morphosyntax in practice) or language acquisition device presumably may refer to the process of using the procedural memory system for grammar or language rules. If so, with the possible exception of getting a native-like accent, even adult learners could attain native-like proficiency in their target language if they practise it enough to make the language behavior their automatic routine – like riding a bicycle, which also uses the procedural memory system – and to make the procedural memory system active in utilizing the second language’s mophosyntax/grammar. The maxim that practice makes perfect may hold true for acquiring a second language. In the case of child learners, or learners before the age of 15, the procedural memory system rather than the declarative memory system is more likely to be used for second language grammar. Possibly a lack of plasticity in the brain’s system may lead to difficulty in acquiring second languages when we are older. Regarding the subtle distinction between a ‘critical’ and a ‘sensitive’ period, the question is whether completely successful acquisition is deemed to be only possible within a given span of a learner’s life( critical), or whether acquisition is just easier within this period (sensitive).

In Burstall’s study( 1975), at the age of 16, the older group still outperformed the younger one. His study shows that age is less important and that the more sophisticated cognitive or possibly academic skills they had in their first language played a more meaningful role in their second language acquisition, except in
the area of listening, which may be biological and less influenced by external factors.

Long( 1990), on the other hand, concludes that a neurological explanation is best and proposes a ‘mental muscle model’, where the language-specific faculty remains intact throughout our lives, but access to it is impeded to varying degrees and impeded progressively with age, unless the faculty is used and so kept plastic. Such a view is compatible with studies of exceptional language learners, which demonstrate that some adult learners are capable of achieving native-speaker levels of competence, as seen in the study by Ioup, et al.( 1994). As Birdsong( 1992) points out, the critical/sensitive period hypothesis may have to be reexamined if many such learners are found.

All those who possess a first language are certainly capable of acquiring some degree
of a second language; however, second language acquisition in a mature human is not as successful as first language acquisition in many cases. Although some researchers( e.g. Bley-Vroman, 1988) have argued that older learners no longer have access to
their innate language acquisition device, consisting of the principles of universal grammar (Chomsky, 1981) and language-specific learning procedures, it has been found to be possible for adult learners to activate such a device by using the procedural memory system( Ullman, 2007) instead of using the declarative memory system, by following the innate grammatical structure while using the language, and by thorough practice until the structure is internalized in the learners’ minds and
becomes automatic in their behavior. Ullman( 2001) suggests that ‘an increasing amount of experience( i.e. practice) with a second language should lead to better learning of grammatical rules in procedural memory, which in turn should result in
higher proficiency in the language’( p.118). Even in adult language learning, which has usually been achieved through first language knowledge, so-called universal grammar may be accessible to adult second language learners, but their second
languages are eventually acquired only if they are encouraged to use the procedural memory system instead of the declarative memory system.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Working memory, SLA, and low-educated second language and literacy learners


Alan Juffs, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Linguistics


"The role of memory in language learning has long been of interest to researchers in first and second language acquisition (SLA) (Baddeley, 1999; Ellis, 2001). At an intuitive level, it seems obvious that part of the explanation for individual differences among adults in success at learning a second language (L2) is attributable to differences in memory capacity. In SLA, researchers have focused on short-term rather than longterm memory differences because they think short-term memory is more responsible for differences in language development. The reason for this belief is that short-term memory is an on-line capacity for processing and analyzing new information (words, grammatical structures and so on); the basic idea is that the bigger the on-line capacity an individual has for new information, the more information will pass into off-line, long-term memory. It is an open question whether low-educated second language and literacy acquisition populations (LESLLA) have short-term memory systems that are similar to literate, educated populations, and if so how their working memory capacity can be measured. This paper will survey the literature on this topic, and will make some suggestions about how models of memory (as they have been applied to second language learning) may and may not be applied to LESLLA contexts...

2 Models of Working Memory

In the psychological literature, theories of working memory can be divided into two
main approaches, each with their own constructs (or ways of operationalizing working
memory) and tests that measure those constructs in individuals. The first is called
'phonological working memory' (PWM) (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974; Gathercole & Baddeley, 1993). PWM tests measure the capacity of an individual to remember a series of unrelated items with covert ‘inner speech’ rehearsal (Ellis, 2001:34). This ability is measured by requiring participants to remember lists of unrelated digits, real words, or non-words; in some versions of this non-word repetition test, these non-words have phonemes that are not in the native language (L1). The second is reading span memory (RSM) (Daneman & Carpenter, 1980). Tests of RSM claim to measure the resources available to simultaneously store and process information. RSM tests require participants to read aloud lists of sentences written on cards (or on a computer) and then recall the final word of each sentence without covert rehearsal. The key difference between the tests for PWM and RSM is that the RSM requires both processing and storage, whereas the PWM only requires the participant to repeat polysyllabic words or repeat a string of unrelated words correctly. PWM and RSM are traditionally treated as separate (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974; Carpenter, Miyake, & Just, 1994; Daneman & Carpenter, 1980; Roberts & Gibson, 2003; Sawyer, 1999) because scores on the tests do not correlate. Carpenter, Miyake, & Just (1994:1078) specifically state that ‘traditional’ span measures (digit, word) do not decline with age and do not correlate with sentence comprehension impairment, whereas RSM does decline with age and correlates with sentence comprehension scores. However, debate and speculation remain on the validity of this separation (Ellis, 2005:339).

...reading involves incremental sentence processing. This view holds that a native-speaker reader of an alphabetical script such as English, Dutch, or French does not ‘take in’ a large amount of text (say 7-10 words) and then decides the appropriate syntax for that set of words. Rather, each word is processed rapidly, and the reader makes assumptions immediately about a possible syntactic structure for that word and the ones that follow.

This view accounts for readers being misled by ambiguous sentences, and the
subsequent ‘surprise’ when their reading goes off track because the structure they had assumed turns out to be wrong. This ‘surprise’ is known as the garden path (GP) effect.

An interesting facet of working memory capacity in this model of reading is that the
effects of individual memory differences are not fixed, but task-dependent (Just et al., 1996; Miyake & Friedman, 1998). For example, a high-memory-capacity individual will be more accurate in comprehension and resolve an ambiguity at crucial points in
reading a sentence such as (1) more quickly than a low capacity individual.

(1) The evidence examined by the lawyer convinced the jury.

In (1) the verb 'examined' is temporarily ambiguous between a main verb and a
reduced relative clause structure. Pragmatic information may be used to quickly resolve the parse in favor of a reduced relative clause reading because ‘evidence’ is inanimate and unlikely to be the agent of any ‘examining’. High WM capacity readers are able to resolve this ambiguity more quickly than low WM capacity readers. According to Just and colleagues, this is because high capacity readers are able to combine pragmatic and syntactic information in parsing more efficiently than low span readers. On the other hand, in a sentence such as (2), while high capacity readers are also more accurate in comprehension, they take more time to resolve the parse:

(2) The soldiers warned during the midnight raid attacked after midnight.

The account of this difference in processing speed between (1) and (2) for high WM
capacity readers is that in (1) high WM individuals are able to make rapid use of
pragmatic information, whereas in (2) the ambiguity of ‘warned’ sets up three purely
syntactic possible parses: a main verb reading, an intransitive verb reading, and a reduced relative reading. Just and colleagues argue that high WM individuals in this case are able to maintain all three possible parses active in parallel, and hence take longer to process them. Ultimately, however, they are more accurate with comprehension probes, whereas low WM capacity individuals are faster, but less accurate. Low WM individuals allow the parse to crash, and therefore read more quickly. However, the cost is that they reject these sentences as implausible or fail to understand the relationships among the noun phrases...

3.2 Working Memory and Second Language Sentence Processing

Juffs & Harrington (1995) were the first L2 acquisition researchers to use a self-paced reading paradigm to look at real-time L2 processing of syntax, although some studies had investigated the lexicon using reaction time data (for a review, see Juffs, 2001). Based on this 1995 study, and further research (Juffs, 1998a,b; Juffs & Harrington, 1996), the indications are that L2 learners process their L2 word-by-word in a similar but not identical way to native speakers. (For literature reviews see Clahsen & Felser, 2006; Fender, 2001.)

The similarities between L1 and L2 processing are that the profiles of decisionmaking
at the word level during processing seem to depend on argument structure, i.e. the number of noun phrases and prepositional phrases that are required by the meaning of the verb. The evidence for this comes from Garden Path (GP) sentences. Recall that a conscious GP effect occurs when the hearer or reader cannot interpret the clause without an effort that brings the structure to his or her conscious attention. The situation in (4a) presents such a processing challenge because ‘the socks’ is initially interpreted as the object of ‘mended’, but must later be reanalyzed as the subject of the verb ‘fell’. In (4b), in contrast, no surprise effect occurs.

(4) a ¿After Mary mended the socks fell off the table.
b After Mary mended the socks they fell off the table.

Non-native speakers seem to be ‘Garden-Pathed’ in the same way native speakers are (Juffs & Harrington, 1996; Juffs, 2004); they do not seem to accumulate ‘chunks’ of text before deciding on a parse, but (like native speakers) decide on a structure as soon as possible and then go back and revise it if it is necessary...

Moreover, there is a hint from data in Juffs (1998a,b) that speakers of head final languages (Subject-Object-Verb order, e.g. Japanese and Korean) appear to slow down on processing verbs and objects, which may suggest an effect of L1 word order. Fender (2003) has subsequently reported that Japanese learners were superior to speakers of Arabic in simple word recognition, whereas Arabic speakers were superior to Japanese in syntactic integration. These results suggest that Japanese learners are at a particular disadvantage in processing head-initial syntax, despite their superior ability to recognize words...

Similar to findings for native speakers of English reported by Just and his colleagues, some of the intra-group differences are as great as the between-group differences in studies of second language speakers (Juffs, 1998a,b)...

4 Working Memory and Less-Educated Second Language Learners

In one of the few papers to emerge from the literature, Loureiro et al. (2004, p. 502) report on a study of 97 Brazilian illiterate [sic] and semi-literate adults. They found that phonological memory (as measured by real word and non-word repetition tasks) was very low in the population they term ‘illiterate’ (68 out of their total 97 participants). The scores for real words were much higher than for non-words. They also report that this memory ability was unrelated to letter knowledge. They therefore conclude that phonological memory, phonemic awareness and phonological sensitivity are not related in this population. In another study, Petersson et al. (2000) published brain-imaging results that suggest a reason for poor performance on non-word tests of working memory in non-literate populations. Petersson et al. (2000:365) report that ‘learning to read and write during childhood alters the functional architecture of the brain’. The result that is particularly

relevant for PWM is that literates do not differ in word and non-word repetition tasks, but illiterates do differ. Petersson et al. (2000:373) interpret the patterns of brain activity to indicate that ‘literates automatically recruit a phonological processing network with sufficient competence for sublexical processing and segmentation during simple immediate verbal repetition, whether words or pseudowords, while this is not the case for the illiterate group.’ The implication is that knowing an alphabetic system allows literates to process phonological segments (sublexical elements) of unknown words, whereas this is not possible for illiterates. Moreover, Kosmiris et al. (2004)’s findings that suggest level of literacy is a factor in phonological tasks is an important confirmation of suggestions made by Petersson. In their study, Komiris et al. (2004, p. 825) compare semantic and phonological processing in three groups: high and low educated literates and non-literates. They found that semantic processing was unaffected by literacy, but augmented by schooling; in contrast Komiris et al. (2004, p. 825) state that: ‘explicit processing of the phonological characteristics of material
appeared to be acquired with literacy or formal schooling, regardless of the level of
education attained: those who had attended school and had acquired symbolic representation could perform the task, but those who had not, did very poorly’.
Exploring the implications of this research for non-literate adult learners of a
second language awaits further research. A pessimistic view might be that if we assume a critical period for language (DeKeyser, 2000; Johnson & Newport, 1989), then
learning a new language will be particularly hard for non-literate adults because they will find the L2 especially challenging because by definition it consists of ‘pseudo-’ or ‘non’ words for them. However, some caution is in order before one becomes too pessimistic. First, debate on the critical period continues, even for phonology (e.g., Birdsong, 2005; Flege et al., 2005), and it may be that other factors such as motivation, exposure, and culture play an even greater role than age in predicting success. One must also take care in how one defines success in a second language, since success probably goes beyond a definition based narrowly on morpho-syntactic and phonological features to one based on the ability to participate meaningfully in another culture. In addition, evidence exists that some illiterates can become literate in their L2 as adults; this is an achievement that should not be possible if a true neurally based critical period exists. Finally, differences among children in non-word repetition capacity exist, and differences do predict vocabulary size and growth in these children.

Since children are not literate at age 3, and can learn language, the implication is that the phonological loop for non-literates might still be a useful measure to explore. In general, the results in this literature suggest that establishing a test of working memory for non-literates will be difficult, because non-literates are likely to perform at floor level with non-word repetition tests. Without a range in scores, there can be no correlation with other language proficiency measures, not even those that are not related to literacy. Since pseudo-words are not processed in the same way in illiterates as they are in literates, real word and digits in the L1 could possibly be used exclusively. Overall, given that some researchers (e.g. Pappagno & Vallar, 1995; Williams & Lovatt, 2003) have used span tasks successfully, the span tasks hold out the most promise for preliminary research with illiterates.

Finally, Baddeley’s construct of the ‘episodic memory buffer’ may have some promise as a test for the ability to relate long-term knowledge and memory. Differences may exist in the ability to recall characteristics that are associated with known words
and construct imaginary situations with those words. For example, Baddeley (2000b)suggests that when accessing long-term memory for use on-line, one could imagine an
exercise that would require a participant to think about how an elephant would perform as an ice-hockey player. This novel situation would require the participant to hold in memory the characteristics of elephants (large, ungainly, long trunk) and ice hockey (slippery surface, fast, violent) to construct a scenario: an elephant might play well in goal, be slow, and able to ‘body-check’ effectively. Differences in the ability to access such knowledge and construct ‘new’ or imaginary situations with that knowledge might be used to predict language learning outcomes. This task may be particularly promising because some researchers report that the participants who are most successful at the RSM task are those participants who covertly construct a story with the words that are the target of recall, even though they are not supposed to engage in covert rehearsal (Osaka & Osaka, 1992; Juffs, 2004). Hence, episodic memory may mediate between visual spatial long-term memory and long-term memory for language...

5 Conclusion

The role of working memory in explaining individual differences in L2 learning has a
history of less than twenty years. Many problems remain in replicating the relationships between PWM, RSM, language proficiency and reading even when experimental participants are literate L2 learners. The role of the L1 appears more important than differences in working memory in explaining performance on some on-line processing and reading tasks (c.f. Marinis et al., 2005). Moreover, the little research that does exist with non-literate populations suggests that they perform poorly on such tests and that literacy may change brain architecture to the extent that non-word tests may not be useful as a measure of working memory. Given the cultural assumptions that decontextualized psychometric tests make, and the problems that LESLLA populations have in understanding such tests, extreme caution is necessary before any predictions or conclusions about the abilities of non-literate and low-educated learners’ ability to succeed in acquiring proficiency in an L2 can be made on the basis of current tests of working memory."

MIT researchers find that Sirtuin1 may boost memory and learning ability

MIT researchers find that Sirtuin1 may boost memory and learning ability

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The same molecular mechanism that increases life span through calorie restriction may help boost memory and brainpower, researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory report in the July 11 issue of Nature.

Resveratrol, found in wine, has been touted as a life-span enhancer because it activates a group of enzymes known as sirtuins, which have gained fame in recent years for their ability to slow the aging process. Now MIT researchers report that Sirtuin1 — a protein that in humans is encoded by the SIRT1 gene — also promotes memory and brain flexibility.

The work may lead to new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating neurological diseases.

“We demonstrated previously that Sirtuin1 promotes neuronal survival in age-dependent neurodegenerative disorders. In our cell and mouse models for Alzheimer’s disease, SIRT1 promoted neuronal survival, reduced neurodegeneration and prevented learning impairment,” said Li-Huei Tsai, director of the Picower Institute and lead author of the study.

“We have now found that SIRT1 activity also promotes plasticity and memory,” said Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “This result demonstrates a multi-faceted role of SIRT1 in the brain, further highlighting its potential as a target for the treatment of neurodegeneration and conditions with impaired cognition, with implications for a wider range of central nervous system disorders.”

In separate work at MIT, researchers discovered that the sir2 (silent information regulator) gene is a key regulator of longevity in both yeast and worms. Ongoing studies are exploring whether this highly conserved gene also governs longevity in mammals.

The mammalian version of the gene, SIRT1, seems to have evolved complex systemic roles in cardiac function, DNA repair and genomic stability. SIRT1 is thought to be a key regulator of an evolutionarily conserved pathway that allows organisms to cope with adversity. These genes and the enzymes they produce are part of a feedback system that enhances cell survival during times of stress, especially a lack of food.

Recent studies linked SIRT1 to normal brain physiology and neurological disorders. However, it was unknown if SIRT1 played a role in higher-order brain functions.

The Picower Institute study shows that SIRT1 enhances synaptic plasticity, the connections among neurons, and memory formation. These findings demonstrate a new role for SIRT1 in cognition and a previously unknown mechanism by which SIRT1 regulates these processes.

MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules encoded in the genomes of plants and animals. These gene regulators are involved in many aspects of normal and abnormal brain function. The Picower study found that SIRT1 aids memory and synaptic plasticity through a previously unknown microRNA-based mechanism: SIRT1 keeps a specific microRNA in check, allowing key plasticity proteins to be expressed.

In addition to helping neurons survive, SIRT1 also has a direct role in regulating normal brain function, demonstrating its value as a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of the central nervous system.

New research finds key proteins involved in the process of memory and learning

New research led by the University of Leicester and published in a prestigious international scientific journal has revealed for the first time the mechanism by which memories are formed.

The study in the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology found one of the key proteins involved in the process of memory and learning. The breakthrough study has potential to impact drug design to treat Alzheimer's disease.

The discovery was made in the University of Leicester laboratory of Professor Andrew Tobin, Professor of Cell Biology, who is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow.

Professor Tobin said: "The work, which was done wholly at the University of Leicester, is focused on the mechanisms by which we form memories. We found one of the key proteins involved in the process of memory and learning.

"This protein is present in the part of the brain in which memories are stored. We have found that in order for any memory to be laid down this protein, called the M3-muscarinic receptor, has to be activated.

"We have also determined that this protein undergoes a very specific change during the formation of a memory - and that this change is an essential part of memory formation. In this regard our study reveals at least one of the molecular mechanisms that are operating in the brain when we form a memory and as such this represents a major break through in our understanding of how we lay down memories.

"This finding is not only interesting in its own right but has important clinical implications. One of the major symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss. Our study identifies one of the key processes involved in memory and learning and we state in the paper that drugs designed to target the protein identified in our study would be of benefit in treating Alzheimer's disease."

Professor Tobin said there was tremendous excitement about the breakthrough the team has made and its potential application: "It has been fascinating to look at the molecular processes involved in memory formation. We were delighted not only with the scientific importance of our finding but also by the prospect that our work could have an impact on the design of drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease."

Gene linked with language, speech, reading disorders identified

Gene linked with language, speech, reading disorders identified
Washington, August 28 : An international group of American and Spanish researchers have identified a new candidate gene for Specific Language Impairment.

Mabel Rice at the University of Kansas, Shelley Smith of University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Javier Gayan of Seville-based Neocodex in Spain have shed light on the KIAA0319 in the current issue of the Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

The researchers have revealed that the gene found on Chromosome 6 was associated with variability in language abilities in a study of children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) and their family members.

They say that the gene was also found to be linked with variability in speech and reading abilities.

According to the researchers, the children they selected for the study had no hearing loss, general intellectual deficit or autism

Language ability involves vocabulary and grammar, whereas speech involves the accuracy of sound production. Both language and speech ability contribute to a child''s ability to read.

The researchers say that the finding that a candidate gene could influence all three abilities suggests a common pathway that could contribute to overlapping strengths or deficiencies across speech, language and reading.

Rice said: "We don''t understand the biological mechanisms yet but it''s important that we have identified the first gene that could be involved across these three different dimensions of development."

The study involved 322 individuals, including children with SLI, their parents, siblings, and other family members.

"We have come to realize that language really sets the platform for reading to emerge and to thrive. Without a solid language system, it''s much harder to get reading going," said Rice. (ANI)

Infants born to bilingual mothers exhibit different language preferences

Infants born to bilingual mothers exhibit different language preferences

17. February 2010

It may not be obvious, but hearing two languages regularly during pregnancy puts infants on the road to bilingualism by birth. According to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, infants born to bilingual mothers (who spoke both languages regularly during pregnancy) exhibit different language preferences than infants born to mothers speaking only one language.

Psychological scientists Krista Byers-Heinlein and Janet F. Werker from the University of British Columbia along with Tracey Burns of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in France wanted to investigate language preference and discrimination in newborns. Two groups of newborns were tested in these experiments: English monolinguals (whose mothers spoke only English during pregnancy) and Tagalog-English bilinguals (whose mothers spoke both Tagalog, a language spoken in the Philippines, and English regularly during pregnancy). The researchers employed a method known as "high-amplitude sucking-preference procedure" to study the infants' language preferences. This method capitalizes on the newborns' sucking reflex - increased sucking indicates interest in a stimulus. In the first experiment, infants heard 10 minutes of speech, with every minute alternating between English and Tagalog.

Results showed that English monolingual infants were more interested in English than Tagalog - they exhibited increased sucking behavior when they heard English than when they heard Tagalog being spoken. However, bilingual infants had an equal preference for both English and Tagalog. These results suggest that prenatal bilingual exposure may affect infants' language preferences, preparing bilingual infants to listen to and learn about both of their native languages.

To learn two languages, bilingual newborns must also be able to keep their languages apart. To test if bilingual infants are able to discriminate between their two languages, infants listened to sentences being spoken in one of the languages until they lost interest. Then, they either heard sentences in the other language or heard sentences in the same language, but spoken by a different person. Infants exhibited increased sucking when they heard the other language being spoken. Their sucking did not increase if they heard additional sentences in the same language. These results suggest that bilingual infants, along with monolingual infants, are able to discriminate between the two languages, providing a mechanism from the first moments of life that helps ensure bilingual infants do not confuse their two languages.

The researchers observe that, "Monolingual newborns' preference for their single native language directs listening attention to that language" and that, "Bilingual newborns' interest in both languages helps ensure attention to, and hence further learning about, each of their languages." Discrimination of the two languages helps prevent confusion. The results of these studies demonstrate that the roots of bilingualism run deeper than previously imagined, extending even to the prenatal period.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

How Practice Tests Improve Memory

How Practice Tests Improve Memory

ScienceDaily (Oct. 15, 2010) — Although most people assume that tests are a way to evaluate learning, a wealth of research has shown that testing can actually improve learning, according to two researchers from Kent State University. Dr. Katherine Rawson, associate professor in Kent State's Department of Psychology, and former Kent State graduate student Mary Pyc publish their research findings in the Oct. 15, 2010, issue of the journal Science.

"Taking practice tests -- particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory -- can drastically increase the likelihood that you'll be able to remember that information again later," Rawson said. "Given that hundreds of experiments have been conducted to establish the effects of testing on learning, it's surprising that we know very little about why testing improves memory."

In the article titled "Why Testing Improves Memory: Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis," Rawson and Pyc reported an experiment indicating that at least one reason why testing is good for memory is that testing supports the use of more effective encoding strategies.

Rawson offered this illustration. "Suppose you were trying to learn foreign language vocabulary," she said. "In our research, we typically use Swahili-English word pairs, such as 'wingu -- cloud.' To learn this item, you could just repeat it over and over to yourself each time you studied it, but it turns out that's not a particularly effective strategy for committing something to memory.

"A more effective strategy is to develop a keyword that connects the foreign language word with the English word. 'Wingu' sounds like 'wing,' birds have wings and fly in the 'clouds.' Of course, this works only as well as the keyword you come up with. For a keyword to be any good, you have to be able to remember your keyword when you're given the foreign word later. Also, for a keyword to be good, you have to be able to remember the English word once you remember the keyword."

The research done by Rawson and Pyc showed that practice tests lead learners to develop better keywords. People come up with more effective mental hints or keywords, called mediators, when they are being tested than when they are studying only.

Rawson joined Kent State's faculty in the fall of 2004. Her grant-funded research, undertaken with colleague Dr. John Dunlosky, psychology professor and director of Experimental Training at Kent State, seeks to identify effective study strategies and study schedules for students to learn classroom material in a durable and efficient manner.

Earlier this year, Rawson traveled to the White House and received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Nominated by the U.S. Department of Education, Rawson was one of 100 beginning researchers named by President Barack Obama to receive this award. She resides in Stow, Ohio.

Pyc received her master's and doctoral degrees from Kent State. She worked in Rawson's cognitive psychology lab. Pyc's research interests involve promoting student learning, including when retrieval practice is beneficial for memory, evaluating theoretical accounts for why retrieval practice is beneficial for memory, how students self-regulate learning, and how students' metacognition is related to their self-regulated learning. She is now a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University.

Evidence of Post-Stroke Brain Recovery Discovered

Evidence of Post-Stroke Brain Recovery Discovered

ScienceDaily (Sep. 29, 2010) — The world's largest study using neuroimaging of stroke patients struggling to regain ability to communicate finds that brain cells outside the damaged area can take on new roles.

Julius Fridriksson, a researcher at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health, said the findings offer hope to patients of "chronic stroke," characterized by the death of cells in a specific area of the brain. The damage results in long-term or permanent disability.

"For years, we heard little about stroke recovery because it was believed that very little could be done," Fridriksson said. "But this study shows that the adult brain is quite capable of changing, and we are able to see those images now. This will substantially change the treatment for chronic-stroke patients."

The study, reported in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, involved 26 patients with aphasia, a communication disorder caused by damage to the language regions in the brain's left hemisphere. Aphasia impairs a person's ability to process language and formulate speech.

About 35 percent of stroke patients have speech and/or communication problems. While many patients with aphasia regain some language function in the days and weeks after a stroke, scientists have long believed that recovery is limited after this initial phase. "Stroke is the leading cause of disability among adults, more than accidents or complications from Parkinson's or Alzheimer's diseases," said Fridriksson, director of the university's Aphasia Laboratory and an associate professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders.

"When someone has brain damage as a result of a stroke, the recovery is expected to be limited," he said.

But Fridriksson's study shows that the brain can recover and that a patient's ability to communicate can improve.

Stroke patients underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging test, also called fMRI, which measures brain activity. Patients received multiple MRI sessions before and after undergoing 30 hours of traditional speech therapy used to improve communication function in patients with aphasia.

By using fMRI -- an imaging technique more improved and widely used in the past decade -- Fridriksson was able to see the healthy areas of the brain that "take over" the functions of the areas damaged as a result of a stroke.

"The areas that are immediately around the section of the brain that was damaged become more 'plastic,' " Fridriksson said. "This 'plasticity,' so to speak, increases around the brain lesions and supports recovery. In patients who responded well with the treatment for anomia [difficulty in recalling words and names], their fMRI showed evidence that areas of the brain took over the function of the damaged cells."

The study found that patients who did not experience these changes did not have as improved a recovery, he said.

This research lays the foundation for future studies of aphasia, including research on the use of low-current, electrical stimulation for the brain.

"Knowing where the brain has been damaged -- and the section that is taking over that function -- will enable us to better use electrical stimulation to promote recovery," said Fridriksson, the lead author of another paper published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience that examined the mapping of brain lesions that cause speech/communication impairment.

"It is believed that electrical currents to the brain will promote secretions of neurotransmitters that support brain plasticity," he said. "This could dramatically improve the quality of life for stroke patients."

Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Cramming doesn't work - flashcards

Why Cramming Doesn't Work

Most college instructors probably are not about to start giving the daily quizzes that some researchers recommend to improve learning, so students might want to try testing themselves when they study on their own. But there's a catch: When people study with flashcards, by far the most common method of self-quizzing, they're notoriously bad at judging when they have mastered the material. Immediately after looking at a flashcard, the item "feels" very accessible because it's sitting in short-term memory but that's not necessarily an accurate gauge of whether you will remember it a week from now, says a Purdue University instructor, adding that to implant facts in long-term memory, it's best to receive feedback on a quiz after a short delay of 5 to 20 minutes, unlike flashcards which, as generally used, give immediate feedback. Similar results were demonstrated in an experiment presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, where people were asked to study 20 word pairs on flashcards during a one-hour period. Half the participants reviewed the full cycle of 20 cards eight times. The other half broke up the pile into small stacks, studying five cards at a time, reviewing them eight times, then moving on to the next small stack. The people who repeatedly studied the full cycle of cards had an average exam score of 80 percent, while the "small stack" participants scored only 54 percent. This is just the latest piece of evidence, says one of the experiment presenters, that cramming does not work. When an unfamiliar fact is studied again and again in immediate succession, it feels better embedded in your memory than it actually is. It is much better to create an interval between the times you study an item. But cycling through a large stack of flashcards, like many other effective study methods, is more frustrating than the less-effective techniques people usually use. Ultimately, it may be a balancing act between studying effectively and studying at all.

Cramming doesn't work in the long term

Back To School: Cramming Doesn't Work In The Long Term

ScienceDaily (Sep. 3, 2007) — When you look back on your school days, doesn't it seem like you studied all the time? However, most of us seem to have retained almost nothing from our early immersion in math, history, and foreign language.

Were we studying the wrong way during all those wee hours? Well, as it turns out we may have been. Psychologists have been assessing how well various study strategies produce long-term learning, and it appears that some strategies really do work much better than others.

Consider "overlearning." That's the term learning specialists use for studying material immediately after you've mastered it. Say you're studying new vocabulary words, flash-card style, and you finally run through the whole list error-free; any study beyond that point is overlearning. Is this just a waste of valuable time, or does this extra effort embed the new memory for the long haul?

University of South Florida psychologist Doug Rohrer decided to explore this question scientifically. Working with Hal Pashler of the University of California, San Diego, he had two groups of students study new vocabulary in different ways. One group ran through the list five times; these students got a perfect score no more than once. The others kept drilling, for a total of ten trials; with this extra effort, the students had at least three perfect run-throughs. Then the psychologists tested all the students, some one week later and others four weeks later.

The results were interesting. For students who took the test a week later, those who had done the extra drilling performed better. But this benefit of overlearning completely disappeared by four weeks. In other words, if students are interested in learning that lasts, that extra effort is really a waste. They should instead spend this time looking at material from last week or last month or even last year.

In other words, as reported in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, "massing" all the study on a single topic into a single session reduces long-term retention. It's better to leave it alone for a while and then return to it. Rohrer and Pashler also wanted to see if the duration of study breaks might make a difference in learning. It did. When two study sessions were separated by breaks ranging from five minutes to six months, with a final test given six months later, students did much better if their break lasted at least a month. So, rather than distribute their study of some material across just a few days, as millions of school children do when given a different list of vocabulary or spelling words each week, students would be better off seeing the same words throughout the school year.

All these experiments involved rote learning, but Rohrer and Pashler have also found similar effects with more abstract learning, like math. This is particularly troubling, the psychologists say, because most mathematics textbooks today are organized to encourage both overlearning and massing. So students end up working 20 problems on the same concept (which they learned earlier that day) when they should be working 20 problems drawn from different lessons learned since the beginning of the school year. In brief, students are wasting a lot of precious learning time.

Article: "Increasing Retention without Increasing Study Time"

Overhearing a language during childhood


Despite its significance for understanding of language acquisition, the role of childhood language experience has been examined only in linguistic deprivation studies focusing on what cannot be learned readily beyond childhood. This study focused instead on longterm effects of what can be learned best during childhood. Our findings revealed that adults learning a language speak with a more nativelike
accent if they overheard the language regularly during childhood than if they did not. These findings have important implications for understanding of language learning mechanisms and heritage-language acquisition.

The prevailing wisdom is that children cannot learn a language by merely overhearing it (Pinker, 1994; Rice, 1983; Sachs, Bard, & Johnson, 1981; Snow et al., 1976). Yet little is known about what might best reveal the effects of childhood overhearing, namely, later acquisition of an overheard language. Finding such effects would benefit current understanding of language-learning mechanisms (Au & Romo, 1997). Consider the timing of input. If deprived of early linguistic input, children generally do not fully acquire a language—especially its phonology and morphosyntax even when input is available later (e.g., Curtiss, 1977; Flege, 1987; Flege, Yeni-Komshian, & Liu, 1999; Johnson & Newport, 1989; Newport, 1990; Oyama, 1976). This implies that language learners can best make use of relevant input during certain maturational states. Despite its significance, input timing has thus far been investigated only in linguistic deprivation studies focusing on what cannot be learned readily beyond childhood. The study of childhood overhearing reported here constitutes a first step in exploring long-term effects of what can be learned readily during childhood. Specifically, it explored whether adults learning a language would have more nativelike mastery of its phonology and morphosyntax if
they overheard the language regularly during childhood than if they did not.

This study also has applied implications. Although there are advantages to being bilingual (e.g., Taylor, Meynard, & Rheault, 1977), raising bilingual children in a predominantly monolingual environment such as the United States is not easy (Taylor, 1987; Wong-Fillmore, 1991). Is there any point for bilingual parents so situated to try? If childhood experience with a language—even if incomplete or discontinued— turns out to help older learners master that language, the answer would be “yes” after all. It would then also make sense for policymakers to allocate more resources to language programs for young children. Our study focused on phonology and morphosyntax because these aspects of language seem easy for children to acquire and difficult for adults to master. They are therefore good candidates for revealing long-term effects of childhood overhearing.

Production benefits of childhood overhearing

The current study assessed whether overhearing Spanish during childhood helps later
Spanish pronunciation in adulthood. Our preliminary report based on a subset of the data (Au, Knightly, Jun, & Oh, 2002) revealed that adults who overheard Spanish during childhood had better Spanish pronunciation, but not better morphosyntax, than adult learners of Spanish who had no childhood experience with Spanish. We now present data from the full sample with additional morphosyntax and pronunciation assessments, as well as measures to help rule out possible confounding prosodic factors such as speech rate, phrasing, and stress placement. Three groups of undergraduates were compared: 15 Spanish-English bilinguals (native Spanish
speakers), 15 late learners of Spanish who overheard Spanish during childhood (childhood overhearers), 15 late learners of Spanish who had no regular experience with Spanish until middle or high-school (typical late L2 learners). Results confirmed a pronunciation advantage for the childhood overhearers over the typical late L2 learners on all measures: phonetic analyses (VOT and degree of lenition), accent ratings (phoneme and story production), but no benefit in
morphosyntax. Importantly, the pronunciation advantage did not seem attributable to prosodic factors. These findings illustrate the specificity of overhearers' advantage to phonological

The loss of first language phonetic perception in adopted Koreans

Does early exposure to a language leave permanent traces in the brain? We examine this issue by testing a group of native Koreans who were adopted by French-speaking families and have stopped using their first language for many years. Previous results suggest that they are not able to recognize Korean sentences, nor to identify Korean words (Pallier et al. 2003). In the present study, we focus on the possible remnants of L1 phonology, by assessing the adoptees’ capacity to discriminate Korean voiceless consonants which are difficult to perceive by native
French speakers. Data from groups of adoptees, native speakers of French, and native speakers of Korean, show that the adoptees do not perceive the differences between Korean phonemes better than native French speakers previously unexposed to Korean. Also, adoptees having been reexposed to Korean and those without reexposure perform similarly on this task. These results demonstrate that the Korean adoptees do not have easy access to the phonetic categories of the Korean language.

Early childhood language memory in the speech perception of international adoptees


It is as yet unclear whether the benefits of early linguistic experiences can be maintained without at least some minimal continued exposure to the language. This study compared 12 adults adopted from Korea to the US as young children (all but one prior to age one year) to 13 participants who had no prior exposure to Korean to examine whether relearning can aid in accessing early childhood language memory. All 25 participants were recruited and tested during the second week of first-semester college Korean language classes. They completed a language background questionnaire and interview, a childhood slang task and a Korean phoneme identification task. Results revealed an advantage for adoptee participants in identifying some Korean phonemes, suggesting that some components of early childhood language memory can remain intact despite many years of disuse, and that relearning a language can help in accessing such a memory.

Salvaging a Childhood Language

Childhood experience with a language seems to help adult learners speak it with a more native-like accent. Can analogous benefits be found beyond phonology? This study focused on adult learners of Spanish who had spoken Spanish as their native language before age 7 and only minimally, if at all, thereafter until they began to re-learn Spanish around age 14 years. They were compared with native speakers, childhood overhearers, and typical late-second-language (L2)-learners of Spanish. Both childhood speakers and overhearers spoke Spanish with a more native-like accent than typical late-L2-learners. On grammar measures, childhood speakers—although far from native-like—reliably outperformed childhood overhearers as well as typical late-L2-learners. These results suggest that while simply overhearing a language during childhood could help adult learners speak it with a more native-like phonology, speaking a language regularly during childhood could help re-learners use it with more native-like grammar as well as phonology.