The World as We Speak

Babies Retain Birth Language

A new study has found that languages learned very early in life are subconsciously retained even when there is no conscious memory of the early experience remaining. The study, conducted by Radboud University, Western Sydney University, and Hanyang University was published in Royal Society Open Science and provides the first evidence that residual knowledge of the birth language by international adoptees not only helps them relearn a perceptual discrimination, but also supports more efficient speech production. Dr. Jiyoun Choi led the research.

The study states, “Children adopted early in life into another linguistic community typically forget their birth language but retain, unaware, relevant linguistic knowledge that may facilitate (re)learning of birth-language patterns. Understanding the nature of this knowledge can shed light on how language is acquired.”

The participants were 29 adoptees are Korean but speak Dutch ages 23–41 and the control group of 29 native speakers of Dutch who had not learned Korean. Most of the group was adopted as toddlers or under 6 months of age, and none of them learned Korean after adoption. The participants were asked to pronounce Korean consonants, which are different than Dutch consonants. While both groups performed at the same level before training, participants whose birth language was Korean outperformed their native Danish counterparts. The results suggest that language is learned in a much more abstract way than previously believed, and that languages heard in the womb and in the early months of life are retained into adulthood.

There have been previous studies that tackle this subject such as the study “Mapping the unconscious maintenance of a lost first language” which discovered that 10–17-year-olds adopted as infants from China whose birth language was Canadian French (yet they do not speak French at all) showed brain activity patterns like those of Chinese-French bilinguals when discriminating Chinese lexical tones, while monolingual French speakers had different activation patterns.

The suggestion that babies acquire languages in the womb and retain them through life could lead to the suggestion that parents speak to their children in the womb and to babies frequently, even though they may not understand exactly what is being said to them. Choi concluded, “Equally informative was the finding that even our youngest adoptee group showed evidence of this knowledge retention, suggesting that important and lasting cognitive abilities are being laid down even in the earliest months of life.”

January 20th, 2017 | 1 Comment

Washington Study Sheds Light on ELL Advanced Course Enrollment

Education Northwest along with the Institute of Education Sciences and Regional Educational Laboratory at Education Northwest analyzed the patterns of advanced coursework among Spanish-speaking students, other language minority students whose primary/home language is a language other than Spanish, and English-only speakers. continue reading

January 19th, 2017 | Leave your comments

The Weeknd Donates $50,000 for Ancient Language

image courtesy of the artist

The University of Toronto is continuing its courses on Ge’ez thanks in part to a $50,000 donation from the Grammy award-winning musician The Weeknd. Ge’ez is an ancient South Semitic language that originated in the northern region of Ethiopia, and remains as the main language used in certain church communities and is used in prayer and in scheduled public celebrations. The Weeknd, whose birth-name is Abel Tesfaye, was born in Canada and is the only child of Ethiopian migrants. His first language is the Semitic language Amharic, and he attended services at an Ethiopian Orthodox church (a type of church that is known to sometimes conduct services in Ge’ez). He was presented the Bikila Award for Professional Excellence in 2014, and donated the funds to the same organization, which is a Toronto-based Ethiopian community organization.

The donation was part of a larger fundraiser that began in 2015, when University of Toronto professor Michael Gervers pledged to donate $50,000 of his own money if the university and Ethiopian and Eritrean communities would help match his contributions.

The course is led by Professor Robert Holmstedt, who specializes in Biblical Hebrew and Northwest Semitic languages and has 25 students enrolled. “We can try to make it as living as possible, but it’s an ancient language and so no one speaks it,” he said. Holmstedt had to invent his own materials for the course since Ge’ez is so rarely taught. He told CBC Toronto, “The language’s obscurity doesn’t mean a better understanding of it can’t have a major impact,” and that “it opens up a world of manuscripts.”


January 19th, 2017 | Leave your comments

Revitalization Efforts for Arapaho Language

Image courtesy CU Boulder

Professor Andrew Cowell and doctoral student Irina Wagner of University of Colorado, Boulder have launched a new website in hopes of keeping the Arapaho language alive. The website was created in conjunction with the Arapaho Language Project by students and faculty in the Department of Linguistics alongside Cowell, and aims to serve as a resource hub for Arapaho. It contains language lessons, a pronunciation guide, bilingual curriculum materials, stories, and many other resources to learn about and speak Arapaho. The site also contains verbal pronunciations in the learning sections where viewers can listen to correct pronunciation of phrases as they are learning. continue reading

January 18th, 2017 | Leave your comments

Obama Pushes to Secure Extra $2 Billion for Poorest Schools

(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

The Obama administration is hurrying to approve a proposal that could mean up to $2 billion in additional funding annually for the nation’s poorest children. The Department of Education is pushing through the policy, which was first proposed in September, in the hope that it be adopted before Trump’s inauguration.

The proposal implements the requirement in Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as recently revised by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that federal funds must supplement and not supplant state and local funds. The Department of Education stated, “The proposal will help ensure that federal funds are additive and do not take the place of state and local funds in low-income schools, in keeping with the longstanding commitment under Title I that the nation’s highest need students receive the additional financial resources necessary to help them succeed. The proposed regulation would mean up to $2 billion in additional state and local funding for high poverty schools.” Two-thirds of English Language Learners (ELLs) are from low-income families, so the policy change could be used to improve the education of nearly three million ELLs in public school systems.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, “Plainly put, our system of funding education is unfair and unwise and this draft rule is an important step toward improving an intolerable status quo. Our states and districts routinely spend less money to educate children facing greater challenges. This rule doesn’t solve this massive problem—no single rule could—but it’s a step in the right direction and brings us closer to a more just education system.”

Precise amounts of funding would depend on how districts comply with the federal requirements, however, the proposal ensures that funding from federal sources be additional to state and city funding.

The department is encouraging districts to meet the requirement by increasing overall funding for education, with a focus on putting new resources in Title 1 schools, and, thus, avoid shifting resources from other schools. This should also discourage districts from forcing staff transfers to other schools, and instead, improve programs that will attract staff to Title 1 schools.

The proposal is flexible and makes exceptions for cases in which discrepancies in districts correspond to extra funding for students with disabilities, ELLs, and other special cases; for small schools where 100 or fewer students are enrolled, excludes minor annual fluctuations, and excludes state or local funds spent on district-wide activities.

The main aim of the regulation is to reduce the funding gap between schools serving low-income students and those with more affluent students. According to the U.S. Department of Education:

  • Low-poverty and low-minority schools are twice as likely to offer a full range of math and science courses as high-poverty and high-minority schools;
  • On average, low-poverty schools offer three times as many AP classes as high-poverty schools;
  • Low-minority schools are twice as likely to offer dual enrollment or dual credit opportunities, compared with high-minority schools;
  • Educators in high-poverty and high-minority schools are more than twice as likely to be in their first or second year of teaching, compared to their peers in low-poverty and low-minority schools.

Details of the proposed regulation can be found here.


January 17th, 2017 | Leave your comments

ACICS Suffers Loss of Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education has withdrawn recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as a nationally-recognized accreditation agency. This decision will affect nearly 16,000 international students studying English language and other subjects.
ACICS previously accredited around 250 institutions in the U.S., among them 130 ESL and higher education institutes that recruit international students. Problems arose with institutions such as the now-defunct Northwestern Polytechnic University in California, which was accredited by the ACICS, that was exposed as a visa mil last year. NPU was found to be inflating students’ grades in order to ensure that they didn’t fail and lose their visas. ACICS was informed of these practices by a whistle-blower, yet continued to accredit the institution.
The Secretary of Education said during the ruling that the actions of the ACICS was “out of compliance with numerous agency criteria.”
“Because of the nature and scope of ACICS’s pervasive noncompliance, I further conclude that ACICS is not capable of coming into compliance within 12 months or less, even if I renewed its recognition for an additional 12 months,” Secretary John King Jr. said.
The department of education has advised students in ESL programs that are accredited by the ACICS to transfer to institutions that are certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). ESL students that are currently in programs that are ACICS accredited will still be able to continue their coursework.
However, ESL programs that are accredited by the ACICS alone will be prohibited from issuing new certificates of eligibility for incoming international students that allow students to receive visas. Students at institutions that are accredited by the ACICS alone will also be unable to claim federal aid after the 18 month grace period.
The ACIS has requested an appeal to regain their accreditation to no avail. The court did grant ACICS’s motion for a preliminary injunction hearing on February 1, in which the court will review ACICS’s claim that the department of education’s decision was flawed and potentially unlawful.
The accrediting body appears ready to fight the department, releasing a statement that says, “We certainly appreciate that this is a very uncertain time for ACICS accredited institutions and we will do our best to keep you updated on the legal developments as they unfold. Throughout this process, our goal is unchanged: to ensure ACICS retains its recognition and, furthermore, to renew and recover our historical role as a highly-regarded accrediting agency.”

January 10th, 2017 | Leave your comments

2019: International Year of Indigenous Languages

Last month, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on the rights of indigenous peoples, stressing the urgent need to preserve, promote and revitalize endangered languages, and proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, inviting UNESCO to “serve as the lead agency for the Year.”

The text which is co-authored by the Plurinational State of Bolivia and Ecuador, and cosponsored by over 50 member states, draws attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to take action at the national and international levels. It further encourages member states to work towards achieving the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to mark the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration in 2017. continue reading

January 8th, 2017 | Leave your comments

Russia to Broadcast New RT Channel in France

Photo Credit: NATALIE KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

Russia’s international network RT will be broadcasting in French next year, the Moscow Times reported. RT—a television network funded by the Russian government—has frequently been called a propaganda outlet for the Russian government, and has been accused of spreading misleading information and content.

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January 6th, 2017 | Leave your comments

UK Government Apologies Over Italian Ethnic Questioning

The UK government has been forced to apologize about questions regarding students’ ethnicity that were initially implemented to address special linguistic needs. continue reading

December 30th, 2016 | Leave your comments

Switzerland Offers Free German Language Classes for Migrants

Buildings in the city centre of Basel - SwitzerlandForeigners moving to Basel are eligible for a free voucher to learn German. Language-learning schools such as Inlingua and ECAP have reported an increase in those learning German through the voucher, still, many immigrants are yet to take advantage of the incentive program. The voucher system is set for new immigrants with a B residency permit which are resident foreign nationals from the EU/EFTA. These immigrants are valid for five years, and can attend up to 80 free German lessons during their first year in the canton. While the program has been around since August of 2015, schools in the canton are now seeing an increase in usage.

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December 19th, 2016 | Leave your comments

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