Tag Archives: In the news

Recent Studies on Learning New Language- When and How?

19 Oct

Most public schools do not introduce foreign language instruction until Middle School.  Considering what the research says about the “critical period” for learning language, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.  But here at PS20, we are following evidence based research and have implemented a dual language Mandarin program that starts in Kindergarten.  Research suggests that the younger the brain, the more flexible it is in regards to discriminating between sounds of a foreign language.

When children are exposed to more than one language, their brain will wire itself to discriminate between the phonetic sounds of  both languages.  In a child exposed to only one language, eventually the brain wires itself to discriminate between a smaller set of sounds- only those native to the language the child hears.  By the time we are 7, we begin a systematic decline in our brain’s flexibility to learn new sounds.  Therefore, as an adult having never been exposed to Mandarin, for example, I cannot listen to a Mandarin speaker and discriminate between all of the sounds in the language.   My brain has solidified patterns and pathways and limited them the English language.  This isn’t to say I can’t train my brain to hear and learn new sounds- it will just be much more difficult for me to learn.

Some parents have concerns that by teaching two languages their kids might become confused or fall behind their monolingual peers in terms of language development.  According to a recent New York Times Article entitled Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language, scientists are showing that there are differences in the brains of children who grow up bilingual (exposed to two languages), vs. children who grow monolingual (exposed to only one language).  Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking.  These skills are known as executive functioning skills.  Bialystok says that, “Overwhelmingly, children who are bilingual from early on have precocious development of executive function.”  So rest assured – research is showing that our bilingual kiddos are enhanced, not hindered by second language acquisition.

Furthermore, research has shown that babies learn new language through human interaction and not through listening to audio (through headphones) or watching and listening to TV.  This has profound implications for early learning.  The social brain must be active for children to learn new sounds and language.  A recent study by Patricia Kuhl showed that English-speaking babies exposed repeatedly to a Mandarin speaker were able to discriminate between Mandarin sounds during a lab test.  However, when English-speaking babies were exposed to the same amount of Mandarin through watching it on a TV and listening to it through headphones, the babies learned nothing.

To hear more about this new research, watch this ten minute talk entitled, The Linguistic Genius of Babies, in which Dr. Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another  by listening to the humans around them and re-wiring the brain to remember the sounds they need to know. Brain scans show how 6-month-old babies discriminate between sounds.

Piggy-backing on Kuhl’s research was another recent New York Times Article, entitled, Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest.  This article appeared in yesterday’s paper and reports that video screen time has no educational benefit for young children.  Children learn through face to face interactions with others- the social brain needs to be active  for learning to take place.  “What we know from recent research on language development is that the more language that comes in — from real people — the more language the child understands and produces later on,” said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University.

The article reports that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should limit the amount of time their young children are simply watching a screen (TV, iPad, cell phone) because there is no such thing as educational programming for young children.  There is evidence to suggest that older children can learn through some types of media, but younger children learn best through real life interactions and play. The articles author, Benedict Carey, summarizes that “for every hour a child under 2 spends in front of a screen, he or she spends about 50 minutes less interacting with a parent, and about 10 percent less time in creative play.”

I talk a lot about the use of technology, specifically the iPad, in Speech & Language Therapy. The iPad is useful because it takes the place of wasteful paper materials such as worksheets and flashcards, and saves time on preparing certain activities and games that I used to make by hand.  It can generate thousands of vocabulary words and pictures and stories at the click of a button without me having to spend hours searching for specific target words or sounds online or in books.  But in order for it to be effective in the learning process, there must be face to face interaction with the therapist or parent, activating the social brain and facilitating the learning experience.

In summary:  Learning new language – When?  Early.  How?  Through human interaction.


Ten Tips for Working With A Speech Pathologist

6 May

My sister-in-law (also a Speech Pathologist) sent me this article from EducationNews this morning.  It made me laugh so I thought I would pass it along.  It’s important that the people we work with understand who we are! 🙂  I’m definitely guilty of all of these and appreciate the author’s willingness to shed light on on these largely truthful quirks in a light-hearted, endearing way.  The article was written by Penny Castagnozzi, co-director of Reading with TLC and proud partner/sister of Nancy Telian, M.S., CCC-SLP! 

Ten Tips for the SLP-Blessed:

1        Don’t even bother to ask, “Do you know what you’re going to do today?” Of course she knows what she’s going to do. She’s a Speech-Path! She made her mental list the night before and has been rehearsing it ever since, unless she’s written it down on a small piece of paper, which she’ll copy neatly onto another, larger piece of paper right after she has her first cup of  coffee.

2        If there’s any verbal confusion, it’s your fault. She’s a speech pathologist, and knows how to express her thoughts – all of them – all of the time.

3        Nobody takes more notes than a Speech-Path. They may not be legible, or organized, but the thoughts are on the paper! (Without being conspicuous, continue to take your own notes at meetings so you can read and understand the important facts!)

4        Nothing is simple. A statement like, “He has a sore throat,” will surely be followed by, “What time exactly did this start? What was he eating at the time? Did you take his temperature? What do you mean by normal? Is it his normal or everyone’s normal? Are you sure he hadn’t had ice cream right before you took his temperature? Does he have any rash? Maybe we should x-ray his throat to make sure there is no bone sliver in it! Did you feel his neck? Were his glands swollen? (I know – you’re thinking, “These are actually all very good questions to ask.” That’s my point! Of course it all sounds reasonable to you -you’re an SLP!)

5        They are like elephants. No, I’m not calling them gray and wrinkled…that would be describing me right now. What I mean is that they never, ever forget anything that happened in the distant past. What’s amazing is that not only to they make mental notes that seem to last forever, but, when asked, they can pull these figures and facts out of thin air in any disagreement.  Are they all true? I don’t know! I clearly do not have the kind of memory to know this or I wouldn’t have asked Speech Path in the first place! Sometimes the memories are just a wee bit too vivid and detailed to be believable, but how can you prove that something thirty years ago wasn’t true if you’ve already admitted your ignorance by asking the question?

6        Don’t try to compete with their work ethic. Speech Paths can, and will, stay up all night to finish an important project, an evaluation, a paper, or a speech. Just say, “I don’t know how you do it!” as you wave to them and drag your weary body off to bed or out of the room.

7        Be prepared for long emails. In the spirit of thoroughness (Yes, “thoroughness” is a word, and I’ll email you the web page that proves it so you’ll believe me!)  every detail of every thought will be put on paper to explain a point. Maybe we should start an email “game” with them, called “Say it in Three!” There are only two rules to this game. One – in any email, there can only be three sentences. Two – no sentences are allowed to have more than 4 clauses. It’s not that I don’t need and appreciate the information, but my brain (remember, I’m 52) can only hold on to three details. That’s it.  If I ask for directions to a location, only give me the first three steps. After that, I’m pretending to listen. (I know what you’re thinking, “Hmmm, poor short term memory for linguistic information…this woman clearly needs some intervention…)

8        Expect them to find flaws. Don’t take it personally – it’s their profession that causes this behavior. They’ve been trained to look for imperfections in speech and language. Looking for something to fix comes naturally to them, and the skill transfers much too easily to other areas of life. On a day you’re prepared to speak in front of an audience of 100 people, you may be standing there minutes before the presentation starts, confident in your tailored slacks and the jacket that hides everything you don’t want the world to see.  Speech Path comes up to you and whispers, “You have something white in your hair – I’ll get it” or “There’s a string hanging here – let me pull it,” or “There’s some black under your eye… no, there…no, a little higher…” It’s a wonderful esteem booster.

9        Enjoy the fullness of life with a Speech Path. Because of all the details they notice and report to you, you’ll live more richly, see more fully,  step more securely, and, if you’re with a Speech Path that’s just like mine, laugh more heartily. They are truly involved in all they come in contact with, and that vitality and commitment to make things better is not only endearing, but commendable. The world is a better place because of Speech Paths.

If you see yourselves in this article, pass the tips on to those you love or those who may occasionally react to you with a smile and a slight wince. If you don’t recognize any of these traits, just explain this article away as merely a way for some poor middle-aged soul who needed to vent openly (nationally?) about a sibling she may be spending a little too much time with lately! Oh, and for those of you who are disturbed because I had promised ten tips…I just wanted to see if you were paying attention! I knew you would be – you’re Speech Paths!

The full article can be found by clicking here.

In the News: Parents’ Ums And Uhs Can Help Toddlers Learn Language

15 Apr

I’ve posted a bit about stuttering lately, and this article from yesterday’s NPR Health Blog is a very cute, informative and related follow up. 

While language modeling for young children can be critical to how they develop language,  don’t worry about having perfectly fluent and smooth speech when talking to your kids!  Research from the University of Rochester suggests that when parents have disfluencies in their speech (or fumble over their words) children learn to anticipate that an unfamiliar or “big” word may follow and it may in fact help them to learn new words and acquire language.

You can click on this link below to access the short article on NPR’s Health Blog:


In the News: More Schools Embracing IPad as Learning Tool

4 Jan

Since I’m planning on implementing an IPad into Speech and Language therapy sessions here at PS20, I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about how other Speech Therapists and teachers have been using them in their clinical practices and classrooms.

While more research is needed to fully assess the impact of computers and technology (such as the IPad) on student learning, I feel strongly that a multimedia approach to communication will help our students with Speech and Language impairments.  An article in today’s New York Times claims that more schools are embracing the IPad as a learning tool.

Click here to read the article  in today’s New York Times in the Education section that describes how some schools are using this latest technology.

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