Feb 12, 2012

Bilingualism Gives Kids an Advantage

Study finds all bilingualism gives kids an advantage

All bilingual children – regardless of the languages they speak – show cognitive advantages over their English-only peers, although they may experience weakness in areas like vocabulary acquisition, says a new study by York University researchers.

The study, published today in the journal Child Development, examined the effects of specific language pairings on children’s verbal and non-verbal development, taking into account language similarities, cultural background and educational experiences.

Researchers compared more than 100 six-year-old monolingual and bilingual children (English monolinguals, Chinese-English bilinguals, French-English bilinguals and Spanish-English bilinguals), measuring their verbal and non-verbal cognitive development. The children were all public school students from the Greater Toronto Area and of similar socio-economic background.

The study reports that bilingual children differ from each other and from monolingual children in how they develop language and cognitive skills through the early school years. Children who grow up speaking two languages generally have slower language acquisition in each language than children raised speaking just one language. However, they have better “metalinguistic” development that gives them a deeper understanding of the structure of language, a skill that’s important for literacy. They also perform better on tests of non-verbal executive control, which measure the ability to focus attention where necessary without being distracted, and to shift attention when required.

“Our research shows that it doesn’t matter what the other language is – all bilingual children have an equal advantage over monolinguals in terms of non-verbal cognitive control,” says study co-author Ellen Bialystok, DistinguishedResearch Professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health.

Study co-author Ellen Bialystok

“People always ask if the languages themselves matter – and now we can definitively say, ‘no.’”

In terms of language acquisition, however, the study shows that some types of bilingualism – particularly where the languages are similar in origin – may have slight advantages over others. For example, Spanish-English bilinguals outperformed Chinese-English bilinguals and monolinguals on a test of English phonological awareness.

“There is really no generalized verbal outcome of bilingualism,” says Bialystok. “In terms of the language consequences of bilingualism, we found it matters very much what the other language is, what language is used in school and likely other factors as well,” she says.

Even though bilingual children may be somewhat slower in learning the vocabulary of each of their languages, Bialystok emphasizes that the benefits of speaking more than one language far outweigh any drawbacks. In previous studies, she and other researchers established that bilingualism postpones symptoms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“The benefits of bilingualism are evident in every stage of life, from early childhood through to one’s senior years. If children are in a position to learn and speak another language, parents should definitely do everything to encourage that,” she says.

The study, “Bilingual Effects on Cognitive and Linguistic Development: Role of Language, Cultural Background and Education”, is co-authored by Raluca Barac, a PhD student in York’s Faculty of Health. The research is supported by the US National Institutes of Health.

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Feb 6, 2012

Tu B'Shevat: New Year of The Trees

This Year (5772 / 2012), Tu (the 15th) B'Shvat, the Rosh Hashana (New Year) of the Trees, falls on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. As all Jewish Holidays do, Tu B'Shvat begins sundown Tuesday evening, February 7, 2012 and ends at nightfall on Wednesday, February 8, 2012.

Tu B'Shvat is a celebration of continuity. After all, what says "I am here for you just as I was here for your fathers, and I will be here for your children just as I am here for you" like a tree. In some cases, it takes longer than one lifetime for a tree to come to "fruition."

The Talmud tells us that by this point in the year, the majority of the rainfall to come during the year has already arrived. Therefore, the trees have already started to grow, and this is the time when fruits begin forming on the trees. Because the fruits begin to grow at this time, it is fitting that we start the New Year for the tree (which has significance to the fruits produced and the gifts the fruit are subject to) at this time.

In Eretz Yisroel, the 15th of Shvat is the day when new sap starts to rise in the trees. It is a time of rejuvenation. It teaches us the important lesson that even in times that seem darkest, there is new life, in times of sorrow there is hope, and in times of Galut, (exile) there is the light of Moshiach.

There are varied customs regarding eating fruit on Tu B'Shvat. Some have the custom to eat the seven species of fruits that grow in Eretz Yisroel. This "Top Seven" selection is based on a verse in Devarim: (8,8) "...a land of WHEAT and BARLEY and (GRAPE) VINES and FIG trees and POMEGRANATES, a land of OLIVE trees and (DATE) honey." Others have a custom of eating fifteen species of fruit (the "top 7" and eight more). In today’s "global fruitopia," where fruits from all over the world are available from our grocers, we mix it up: starting with the "top 7", we move on to local fruity favorites and throw in a "new fruit" (that we haven't eaten this year) in order to be able to make the Bracha (blessing) of Shehechiyanu.

What better way to celebrate the birthday of trees than to actually plant a tree. There are all kinds of organizations and groups that are dedicated to planting trees in the forests of Eretz Yisroel. You can also plant a tree in your own neck of the woods if you want to. Tu B'Shvat is the perfect time to protest deforestation and the shrinking of the rain forests, although there's no particular mitzvah to do so.

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Feb 4, 2012

Until Tomorrow

This song is for everyone, children or not, who are concerned about tomorrow. Our children will be those who will lead the world in the future, we must give love to them, protect them from evil and the concerns, to grow without fear with gentle character.

UNTIL TOMORROW - Ad Machar (Eviatar Banai - Israeli Musician)

You should not think
When you're so tired,
Go for a walk at sunrise.

Far from home
The trail that leads back is cleared
Walking on a Wire (tightrope)

The nights are long,
Without knowing why,
You're running and there is no pursuer.

Until tomorrow,
In a little while
A child runs to you,
and embraces you.

We will circulate in the park,
Just stop thinking,
The people are tired of running in the street.

We've been here before,
In a role reversal (when we were kids),
A quick walk to wear out the body.

Until tomorrow,
In a little while
A child runs to you,
Embraces you.

There's a hole in the fence
Among the vines,
Among the vine,
only foxes cause damage.
The fear and the lamentations go away.

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