|Posted on April 26, 2013 at 11:30 AM||comments (0)|
Children are getting a head start in learning Spanish, French and Chinese in South Florida after-school programs
Students work on a word scramble exercise in French at EFF, or Education Francaise en Floride, at the Downtown Miami Charter School on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. ALLISON DIAZ / FOR THE MIAMI HERALD
Education Francaise Floride: French classes for children ages 4 to 13, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays, Downtown Miami Charter School, 305 NW Third Ave., Miami. $300 for 10 weeks. Visit www.french4kidsmiami.org or call Francoise Perez 305-202-3166.
BY ELIZABETH DE ARMAS
Hello. Hola. Bonjour. Ni Hao.
Four languages. One meaning.
Whether it’s English, Spanish, French or Mandarin, mastering a second or third or fourth language is within reach – especially at a young age. Language and cultural programs for children are springing up across the county, as parents realize that fluency in a language connects children to their heritage and can open many doors.
For those looking to develop young Francophiles, a French program on Saturday mornings may be the answer.
Education Francaise Floride (EFF), offers French classes for children ages 4 to 13 at the Downtown Miami Charter School. EFF was founded in 2007 by a group of parents living in Miami Beach who wanted to create a French bilingual program modeled after the French program at Sunset Elementary in Coral Gables. The classes are on Saturday mornings so more children can attend.
“In Miami, being the way that it is, if you put a language program in one school, it is only convenient for the students in that school,” said Francoise Perez, 40, president of EFF.
EFF has the best of both worlds – a French program open to the community that is taught by Miami-Dade Schools French teachers, who teach on a freelance basis on the weekends. The program is not affiliated with Miami Dade Public Schools.
EFF is a nonprofit organization that fuses both language and culture.
“Language is a very important part of children’s lives,” Perez said. “Our goal is to educate as many people as possible and not be money driven.”
Four classes are available, which are broken down by age and level of fluency. The younger children learn through playing French games, signing French songs and engaging in hands-on activities. The older students follow a French education methodology, the Ratus method, which includes grammar and culture.
Rebecca Dinda, principal of the Downtown Miami Charter School, thinks the partnership is great for her students as well as EFF.
“We are a school that is working diligently to improve the student achievement of all of our students,” Dinda said. “We love our partnership with EFF because it truly provides our students with pride that other kids share their school and gives them exposure to kids that they may typically not come in contact with.”
|Posted on April 25, 2013 at 1:20 PM||comments (0)|
By YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE
SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.
They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.
Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.
In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin marked with a conflicting color. The bilinguals were quicker at performing this task.
The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.
Why does the tussle between two simultaneously active language systems improve these aspects of cognition? Until recently, researchers thought the bilingual advantage stemmed primarily from an ability for inhibition that was honed by the exercise of suppressing one language system: this suppression, it was thought, would help train the bilingual mind to ignore distractions in other contexts. But that explanation increasingly appears to be inadequate, since studies have shown that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals even at tasks that do not require inhibition, like threading a line through an ascending series of numbers scattered randomly on a page.
The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.” In a study comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals on monitoring tasks, Mr. Costa and his colleagues found that the bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.
The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age (and there is reason to believe that it may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life).
In a 2009 study led by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth were compared with peers raised with one language. In an initial set of trials, the infants were presented with an audio cue and then shown a puppet on one side of a screen. Both infant groups learned to look at that side of the screen in anticipation of the puppet. But in a later set of trials, when the puppet began appearing on the opposite side of the screen, the babies exposed to a bilingual environment quickly learned to switch their anticipatory gaze in the new direction while the other babies did not.
Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.
Nobody ever doubted the power of language. But who would have imagined that the words we hear and the sentences we speak might be leaving such a deep imprint?
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is a staff writer at Science.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 25, 2012
The Gray Matter column on bilingualism last Sunday misspelled the name of a university in Spain. It is Pompeu Fabra, not Pompea Fabra.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 18, 2012, on page SR12 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Bilinguals Are Smarter.