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

Tom Givon tgivon at
Fri Dec 31 04:17:30 UTC 2010

Sometime in the early 1990s, when Linda Cruz Givon was teaching 2nd year 
Spanish at U. Oregon, we did an experiment. We gave her class a test 
under two conditions: (1) do the task (written translation of a text) in 
class, under realistic (for native speakers) time-pressure. The results 
were collected & score. Then we gave it back to them & told them "Now 
you can take it home and correct it at your leisure, and your grade will 
depend only on the corrected version". Then we score only the students 
who were getting a cumulative A in their last (6th) quarter of Spanish 
(2 year college req.). Their in-class performance was uniformly a mess, 
pidgin grammar. Their home-corrected versions were perfect. They got 
their As. Our conclusion was that the A students do well with 
time-pressure, when there are no strong attentional demands, so that 
they can process consciously, NOT automatically. Under realistic 
production-rate demands, they can only do pidgin. Not enough time for 
attended processing. Since grammar is a highly-automated production 
system (like phonology), it is fairly clear that there is a significance 
critical period. Tho a small percent of the population manages to 
circumvent it (the famous/infamous Herman Pevner, perennial undergrad in 
linguistics at Berkeley in the 1960's, took 9 years to get his BA, was 
one case I know. Ken Hale was another. My friend Fransesc Queixalos is 
another).  Cheers,  TG


On 12/30/2010 8:58 PM, Eve Sweetser wrote:
> 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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