This Week In Language Education (June 16, 2017)

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We’ll try doing This Week In Language Education a bit differently from now on. I find it more useful to post reviews and observations throughout the week rather than in one post, so I’ll use this weekly post for very short comments and quick takes/links that may be of interest.

What is “Translanguaging”?

I have come across the term “translanguage” several times in journal titles in the past few years, as in “An exploratory study of tranlanguaging practices in an online beginner-level foreign language classroom.” I finally looked it up in Wikipedia, and here’s their definition:

Translanguaging is the process whereby multilingual speakers utilize their languages as an integrated communication system. It is a dynamic process in which multilingual language users mediate complex social and cognitive activities through strategic employment of multiple semiotic resources to act, to know [sic] and to be.

Seems pretty straightforward to me, but in case you’re still confused, Psychology Today helpfully explains that translanguaging is essentially what we used to call “code switching,” which is when bilingual speakers switch between languages during conversation. Think of it as code switching with a dollop of academic gobbledygook on top.

Quick Takes:

  • The Dubious Case for Brain Zapping – A Scientific American blogger, Gary Stix, shares my skepticism about the vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and language acquisition, citing a new study that found no benefits to VNS on older adults for working memory (which, even if it improved, probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, as I pointed out).
  • Learning to Read at 30 and the Brain Scientific American‘s Stix interviews the lead author of a recent study (Open Access) on adults learning to read for the first time at 30 and what it does to their brains. Key insight here is that you need to look at brains before reading instruction begins. Very few studies have done that, and those that do (I could find only three longitudinal studies) classify dyslexia using phonological measures or word recognition tests rather than examining actual reading comprehension.
  • Early Bilingualism May Help If You Later Have a Brain Injury – Don’t test this hypothesis at home.
  • Biking Improves Language Proficiency? – Perhaps this explains why 99% of bicyclists I have observed in Los Angeles don’t obey the traffic laws – they’re too busy studying French.
  • Make $200 as a Spelling Bee Coach – What ever happened to old-fashioned pursuits by high schoolers, like drinking and smoking?
  • Advantages of Being Misunderstood – Researchers found that second language speakers with an accent are usually cut a good deal of slack by native speakers when it comes to their speech. People interpret otherwise incorrect or implausible utterances in the most plausible way possible – like “covfefe.”
  • Kiwi ESL TV Drama – A production company in New Zealand is raising funds to produce a six-part drama. “Viewers are able to choose their level of language-learning proficiency (English as a second language or English as a foreign language), designed by highly qualified TESOL education professionals with extensive knowledge of the language learning landscape.” It sounds a bit like an English version of Bill Van Patten’s Destinos project from the 1980s, but on a much smaller scale (each episode is only 5-7 minutes long). Their Kickstarter campaign is only looking to raise $5500, but maybe the NZ dollar goes a long way?
  • Bilinguals Have Bionic Hearing – I exaggerate slightly: bilingual children can recognize voices better than monolinguals. The press release states: “When listening to English, bilingual children were better at discriminating and learning to identify voices. They were also faster at learning voices. When hearing German, bilingual children were better at discriminating voices.”
  •  Stimulate Yourself to Better Language Comprehension – A walk-through (open access!) on how to hook stuff up to your scalp and go zap-ity zap. Maybe you really can try this at home?
  • The Universal Translator is Here Star Trek fans knew this was coming. Our new overlord Watson is responsible, it seems.
  • Foreign Languages 911 – This article claims we are suffering through a “foreign language emergency.” Michael Nugent (no relation to Ted (?)), director of the State Department’s Defense Language and National Security Education Program, is totally not looking for more money for his budget: “Some of the teaching that happened in the past was pretty bad,” he said, perhaps referring to the Foreign Service Institute’s own training materials from the mid-20th century. “Our various programs are trying to get students to learn effectively so when they graduate from college, they’re not only able to order a beer, maybe.” This is a good point, especially for Secret Service personnel who may also need to order other things while serving their county abroad (and in Maryland!). Read the whole 50-page report here (and tell me what it says, please, so I don’t have to).
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