Primero Hay Que Aprender Espa ñol. Ranhou Zai Xue Zhongwen. -

Eve Sweetser sweetser at
Fri Dec 31 03:58:47 UTC 2010

There is of course the added practical fact that American college 
instruction (including language teaching) is overall pretty good, while 
our K-12 system (despite a lot of good and dedicated individual teachers 
in there) does not overall hold up well to international comparison.  
I've known many college students who had had multiple years of Spanish 
or Chinese in K-12 and had almost no control of the language.  And I've 
also known many students who quite effectively (though OK, not 
"semi-natively") acquired their first second language in college - 
including Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or other languages typologically 
more distant from Western European grammars.  It'd be great if those 
students had gotten more languages earlier (which is also Kristof's 
point, I'm sure) - but till they do, the Berkeley campus is still busy 
teaching languages, and sending students on years abroad too.

On 12/30/10 6:47 PM, Tom Givon wrote:
> Brian
> I goofed on the dates. The first paper is Neville, Mills & Lawson 
> (1992), the second Neville (1995) in the Gazzaniga volume (first 
> edition of The New Cognitive Neuroscience). What they dis was a 
> comparison between 3 populations:  (i) English native speakers, (ii) 
> fluent non-natives who learned English before puberty, and (iii) 
> fluent non-natives who learned  English after puberty. The brain 
> activity of the first two groups were identical, with stong IFG 
> (Broca) activity. The third group shows much reduced IFG activity, 
> compensated by a much higher R-cortex parietal activity--the 
> attentional system. So, while Kissinger, Schwartzeneger (and myself) 
> may be fluent, we do it at the cost of much more attentional demands. 
> I know this from personal experience-- it is much easier to disrupt my 
> grammar fluency by attentional distractors (including emotional ones) 
> that would be much easier to handle for a native speaker.  Cheers, TG
> ===================
> On 12/30/2010 6:28 PM, Brian MacWhinney wrote:
>> Tom,
>>       What Weber-Fox and Neville showed was that two-year-olds have 
>> different brain responses to the learning of new words from adult 
>> second language learners.  I don't think we need to interpret this as 
>> showing critical period effects as much as the effects of trying to 
>> learn a second language after the first has been entrenched for say 
>> 16 years.  In fact, adults and older children pick up vocabulary and 
>> aspects of pragmatics and syntax considerably faster than children, 
>> as Swain, Ervin-Tripp, and others have shown.  Where young children 
>> excel is in their ability to acquire and hold a native-like accent in 
>> phonological output.  It does seem that motor programs have something 
>> like a critical period effect, producing cases such as noticeable 
>> accents for Henry Kissinger or Arnold Schwarzenegger.  But, in my 
>> book, both of those late learners did a fine job of learning English.
>>      Still, I can't disagree with your conclusion that we are often 
>> wasting our time in instruction at the college level, but this is 
>> probably not because of critical period effects, but rather because 
>> of poor pedagogy, inadequate contact with native speakers, and 
>> sometimes weak motivation.  Does this mean that teaching English in 
>> the preschool is universally effective?  Not unless it is accompanied 
>> by solid and continual support from both within and outside school.  
>> In Hong Kong, all the children learn English, but not always 
>> willingly.  Hungarian children did a great job not learning Russian.  
>> Starting early is a good thing, but the crucial studies that we need 
>> to evaluate its relative effectiveness, particularly in the Far East 
>> where it is so popular, have not really been done.  It is not totally 
>> clear how well the work that was done in Montréal can extend to all 
>> cases of early L2 school-based learning.
>>     Does the complexity of this debate undercut the importance of L2 
>> and multilingualism as a part of the "message of linguistics?"  In my 
>> mind, not at all.  Rather it should be a way of motivating interest 
>> on the part of students and further research.
>> -- Brian MacWhinney
>> On Dec 30, 2010, at 7:14 PM, Tom Givon wrote:
>>> With all the fuss about what linguistics is good for, there's always 
>>> the old tried-and-true: Second language&  multilingualism. Nick 
>>> Kristoff (see URL) may preach about it, but we (hopefully) know 
>>> about it. And one of the thing we know, and can tell whoever would 
>>> care to listen, is that starting instruction at high school  or 
>>> college is a colossal waste of time, money and hope. All you get, in 
>>> 95% of the cases, is pidginization. Want them to be fluent, 
>>> grammatical bi/multi-lingual? Catch them at kindergarten&  
>>> elementary school. There are some nice neuro-ling papers by Helen 
>>> Neville&  colleagues from the mid-1980s about the neurology of 
>>> critical period. This is such a well-known secret, yet most US 
>>> investment in second-language instruction is blown at the high 
>>> school&  college level. Those would make sense--only if we start the 
>>> kids earlier.
>>> Happy New Year,  TG

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