This Week In Language Education (June 30, 2017)

In Case You Missed It:

Quick Takes:

  • A Map of Language Diversity – Shows the areas on Earth where the most languages are spoken: “The main locations of each entry from the database were used to calculate the density (and diversity) of languages in their spatial distribution. The cartogram therefore shows larger areas where there is a relatively higher diversity of languages.” In North America, the West Coast of the U.S. and central Mexico are the most diverse.
  • Siri Wasn’t Really My Type Anyway – Researchers studied how motivated students were with a “Chatbot” language partner versus a human partner. They found a “novelty” effect for the chatbot language partner that eventually wore off: “Comparisons of task interest under different partner conditions over time indicated a significant drop in students’ task interest with the Chatbot but not Human partner.” “If only the Chatbot had brought flowers and called more often, things might have been different,” the lead author didn’t say.
  • When You’re Tempted to Make Fun of Chinese Restaurant Translations – Everyone has his favorite bad translation (NSFW) of an item on a restaurant menu or public sign (there’s even a site that will generate one for you), but this study looks at the poor translations done into Chinese. Warsteiner, a German beer brand, was initially translated into something that sounded a lot like “I’m dead” in Chinese (sales improved after a name change). When Coca-Cola was first introduced in the early ’70s, the first translation (a transliteration) sounded to the Chinese like “a swarm of tadpoles gnawing candles in the water.” It was later renamed with characters meaning “tasty” and “joyful.”
  • Vocabulary, Grammar, Sex, and Aging – That’s the name of a paper just published in Cognitive Science, not what’s been on my mind lately. From the abstract: “Although vocabulary diversity increases throughout the lifetime, grammatical diversities follow a different pattern, which also differs between women and men. Women use increasingly diverse syntactic structures at least up to their late fifties, and they do not deteriorate in terms of fluency through their lifespan. However, from age 45 onward, men exhibit a decrease in the diversity of the syntactic structures they use, coupled with an increased number of speech disfluencies.” Doubt it.
  • Lexiles Come to the TOEFL iBT Reading – I took a very brief look at this, and may need to return to it. ETS has written a technical report on linking the Lexile scale (often used in evaluating the difficulty of books for K-12 students) and to the TOEFL iBT (Internet-based test) scale. It is an attempt to do what McQuillan (2016) did in laying out a path for students to read their way to higher levels of proficiency. The researcher found a strong correlation between TOEFL scores and the text difficulty (Lexile) scores (r = .73). You can plug in your TOEFL reading score and get the approximate Lexile range with suggested books here. Of course, you don’t need Lexile scores to find a good book, but there may be some useful applications of this information.
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