Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: The Holland Diaries, Pt 1

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  • Danielle,

    She was made head librarian there last week... it appears to be because she's 'detail oriented' and doesn't mind telling other kids off.

    You must nip this tendency in the bud! Believe me, librarianship is a miserable existence! :)

    (I couldn't identify more with your inability to hear the doctor telling you the news. I try to have someone else with me to remember stuff at times like these, but sometimes it doesn't work.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    from about 2.5 yrs till 8-9 the brain absorbs language much easier. Past that it's just plain hard work.

    This idea is discussed in most introductory Applied Linguistics texts under the heading of the Critical Period Hypothesis (see also this helpful book review of Birdsong(1999)) -- that there is some kind of cut-off point for learning languages in the same way as children learn their native language.
    In the handout for my own course, I summarise the main conclusions as follows:

    There is some conditional support for the Critical Period Hypothesis. But note:
    - Human brain development is gradual and doesn't suddenly stop, so instead of a set "critical period" after which language learning becomes impossible , we may have a "sensitive period" after which language learning is less efficient (so requires more effort).
    - Different aspects of language may have different "sensitive periods": e.g.
    nativelike phonology (accent) in L2 is extremely difficult after about age 6;
    nativelike L2 syntax becomes progressively harder after about age 8-10;
    whereas learning new words is possible at any age.
    - Different learners may show "sensitive periods" to different extents: some people may have little or no loss of sensitivity to language input. [Hence there are some reported cases of adult learners reaching nativelike proficiency in a L2.]
    - The "sensitive period" for language may last longer if the environment continues to provide new opportunities for learning additional languages starting from childhood. [E.g. the Vaupes region of the Amazon basin, a multilingual society in which new languages continue to be learned throughout life.]

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1887 posts Report Reply

  • Heather W.,

    One specialist mentioned a boy that always did better with hearing tests on hot days - (could see muscle movement of male tech in short but not in long sleeves).

    Doing a vision test for a non-verbal child also made for interesting times.

    North Shore • Since Nov 2008 • 189 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    that there is some kind of cut-off point for learning languages in the same way as children learn their native language

    I did a little more reading around this and found that there is considerable ... er discussion, about the critical point hypothesis.

    It seems that between 2 and 5 there is agreement that children seem to pick up subtleties of accent better than older children. And as Linger's notes point out, syntax seems to come easier to younger children. There does seem to be some evidence that the way children learn language early is a bit different (easier?).

    But there is also lots of comment that adults learn languages well too although they learn using different methods.

    All of which makes me now unsure if learning sign would be easier when older or younger.

    What we need is a cohort of identical twins to experiment on - and of course some summer students to sacrifice :).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Just wanted to add my appreciation of another beautifully written blog Emma. You do use some remarkable phrases to draw us into your life and family.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    My understanding about the language acquisition thing (and I'm reaching back a long way into the vaults here) is that babies will make any old sound but as they grow they winnow out the "useless" sounds and retain those used in the language they hear around them to the point where adults actually can have difficulty "hearing" sounds that don't occur in their mother tongue(s).

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    Re: learning sign. If I recall correctly (I'll give you 50:50 odds on that) infants of signing parents learn sign following almost the exact same process as any infant learning the language of it's parents and, no matter when we start, we'll never learn another language as easily and completely as the ones we learn from birth.

    Whether there's any advantage to starting at four as opposed to ten or thirty-seven is a whole nother question.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    She was made head librarian there last week (school, not the couch) and she's very proud of that, even though it appears to be because she's 'detail oriented' and doesn't mind telling other kids off.

    It has been my experience that these qualities serve you very well in later life. The ability to tell people to shove it, especially, becomes very handy.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    What we need is a cohort of identical twins to experiment on - and of course some summer students to sacrifice :).

    I am glad to see you know your priorities. *g*

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Still feel any response I make is only scratching the surface, but here are a few.

    Everything that should have been hers by right, we had to fight for.

    Most New Zealanders have no idea quite how distrustful and tiring the system is. The deeply-embedded assumption seems to be that disabled people and our familes are out to rip off the state. Perversely, scarce funds are therefore wasted in all sorts of insulting and inhumane rationing processes, and families are put under unnecessary pressure. Emma, your daughter is indeed fortunate to have such great parents.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19683 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I always did think handicap was a more accurate, nicer way of describing disability. It makes things harder, it doesn't stop them altogether (disabled, just seems, and maybe it doesn't technically, like it means not able ).

    Graeme, I quite like "challenged" which is even less restrictive - but it got ruined before I was ever involved.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19683 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    My brother is profoundly deaf, born in 1964, affected by the Rubella epidemic of the year before.
    ...
    It was partly due to that epidemic that things changed, partly because there were so many more deaf than usual, and also because the disease was indiscriminate of the victims. Not just poor people were having deaf babies, but professional, literate, educated parents did. And they stood up and fought for their rights..

    Thanks, Hannah. I hadn't heard that slice of history. Progress happens when resourceful or influential people are implicated. Earlier, returned soldiers changed attitudes about the worthiness of disabled New Zealanders.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19683 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    The advent of faxes and then texting made a huge difference in incorporating deaf into society. A section of our community who had previously ignored all telecommunication devices became avid uptakers of the new technology, which I don't think the Telco's had thought about, or expected.

    And let's not forget Teletext, one of the early successes in the 1980s for a freshly-formed lobbying organisation called DPA.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19683 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    It would certainly make ordering drinks in a loud bar easier...

    Too true, Mikaere. Need to make sure it's well lit, though. I'm told that Deaf parties are, and that eavesdropping is easier. Your wife and others here would know more, for sure.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19683 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Most New Zealanders have no idea quite how distrustful and tiring the system is. The deeply-embedded assumption seems to be that disabled people and our familes are out to rip off the state.

    It's exhausting, absolutely go home and cry exhausting. To spend two months trying to get an IEP to actually take place, to then have people make promises about what they will do and then not do it... I told Sacha at Foo that we've pretty much got to the point of deciding that it's easier to get things done without our Ministry of Education facilitator.

    That said, she is heinously overworked. There are THREE doing all of Canterbury at the moment, and every service is more stretched since the introduction of newborn testing last year. We spent months with no designated audiology provider - we struggled to even get hearing aid batteries over the holidays.

    Whether there's any advantage to starting at four as opposed to ten or thirty-seven is a whole nother question.

    I've retained much more of the French I started learning at about seven than the extra French from high school and uni, and almost none of the Russian I learned at varsity. I feel like it's much harder to learn new languages now that I'm old and my brain is slow.

    I struggle to learn sign, oddly, because I'm left-handed, and it's very right-handed. I end up doing everything backwards.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Kerry Weston,

    Front page of today's Dom - Auckland University psychologist Ian Lambie: "At the end of the day, we've got an inadequate workforce, there's no specialist training in child and adolescent psychology in New Zealand and it's a gap." This is in reference to the mooted boot camps and Judge Andrew Beecroft's assertion that they are failures, historically, and might only work with long-term follow-up and support.

    There is no child and adolescent specialist psychologists at all in the Manawatu, (likely spot for boot camps with all the Defence Force hangouts) as I discovered a couple of years ago when I sought help for my son. You aren't told this, of course. The clients are told that they are bad parents, that whatever the problem is, it's all their fault. Like Emma, I had to go hard to get any help at all and the system is unquestionably structured to conserve funds and find excuses not to help.

    One day, I heard a NZ adolescent psychologist who practises in Melbourne on the radio, describing what he does and what kind of services are available and how he views adolescence. It was a revelation. I'd never heard such wisdom, hope and blame-free positive rhetoric from a mental health professional - and I'd seen a few by then. Suddenly I knew just what we didn't have.

    The lack of a genuine, professional presence in NZ is not just a "gap" it's a cold-hearted, ignorant decision to with-hold essential health care from children and their families.

    Manawatu • Since Jan 2008 • 494 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    I've retained much more of the French I started learning at about seven than the extra French from high school and uni, and almost none of the Russian I learned at varsity

    What Emma said. In fact *exactly* what Emma said. That's a little creepy.

    I will note that I find basic grammar tends to remain where vocab goes down the tubes; this is definitely the case for my high-school only Maori and Latin, where I can puzzle almost anything out given a dictionary but struggle otherwise, unless it's quite basic vocab.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    There is some conditional support for the Critical Period Hypothesis. But note:
    - Human brain development is gradual and doesn't suddenly stop, so instead of a set "critical period" after which language learning becomes impossible , we may have a "sensitive period" after which language learning is less efficient (so requires more effort).
    - Different aspects of language may have different "sensitive periods": e.g.
    nativelike phonology (accent) in L2 is extremely difficult after about age 6;
    nativelike L2 syntax becomes progressively harder after about age 8-10;
    whereas learning new words is possible at any age.
    - Different learners may show "sensitive periods" to different extents: some people may have little or no loss of sensitivity to language input. [Hence there are some reported cases of adult learners reaching nativelike proficiency in a L2.]
    - The "sensitive period" for language may last longer if the environment continues to provide new opportunities for learning additional languages starting from childhood. [E.g. the Vaupes region of the Amazon basin, a multilingual society in which new languages continue to be learned throughout life.]

    Thanks for posting that Linger. I had always felt a little disheartened by those 'rumours'. So when I first moved here, one of my primary goals was to test that theory first hand. Meaning I have had to force myself to refrain from active study for the last 6 years, also meaning this year I have to start to learn to reading and writing, to keep in step with the local education system. I'm happy to report that my language ability is not significantly worse than a 6 year old either Phonologically and syntactically. But my most notable weakness is proper noun retention. I'm certain that by the time these kids reach 8 or 9, I'll have been left behind, unless I make a concerted effort, which I don't really have the time for or energy for.

    Recently I've been passing on the English to a 2 year old at the local dairy; just bits and pieces when I go in to buy beer. I'm astounded by the leaps he makes. Though his entire vocabulary consists of"hello,hi,how are you? good,1,2,3", I'm hoping to get him to 10 before the end of the month. small pleasures...

    Main observation, in keeping with your handout Linger, is the ability to learn language varies hugely from person to person, a factor far more relevant than the 'peak age' theory, and also that the other 'rumour' re; females being better equipped to learn language holds true for the most part, at least in my experience.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    I've retained much more of the French I started learning at about seven than the extra French from high school and uni, and almost none of the Russian I learned at varsity. I feel like it's much harder to learn new languages now that I'm old and my brain is slow.

    I'd hesitantly suggest Emma, that a lot of what you perceive to be lost, has merely been holed up in the archives due to lack of practice. A solid month in the French Empire would jostle you back to match fitness.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    acquisition of L2 as an adult is (IMHO) a function of opportunity (environment) and motivation (need/reward).

    also, it doesn't matter how young or old you are when you learn a languge, if you don't use it you will lose it. of that i am reasonably sure.

    on an individual level, i think personality type plays a major role in success or otherwise.

    as for phonology, that really is an interesting one. but i suspect certain people just have much better listening skills than others. i got drilled pretty hard from 13-18 and listening happens to be a learning strength, so i was lucky, i suppose.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    The lack of a genuine, professional presence in NZ is not just a "gap" it's a cold-hearted, ignorant decision to with-hold essential health care from children and their families.

    My mother is a child and adolescent psychologist who's worked on both sides of the Tasman (Wellington and Perth).

    Yes, these services in Australia are much more available, more well funded, and if you need specialist help there, typically you can get it.

    But she would also say that their services are twice as well funded, but no where near twice as much is on offer. NZ would offer as much with a moderate increase in the funding, they are well used to stretching on the 'smell of an oily rag' here.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    acquisition of L2 as an adult is (IMHO) a function of opportunity (environment) and motivation (need/reward).

    Yes, though there are also important roles for at least two other factors: *language aptitude* (some people have skill sets -- including sound perception, grammatical category awareness, pattern recognition, and rote learning ability -- that facilitate language learning; these abilities seem in part inbuilt, but can also be developed to some extent by practice), and *linguistic distance* (learners for whom the L2 is more similar to their L1 have an advantage). *Personality* may play a role as well, by affecting how an individual responds to motivation and environment (e.g. there have been strong suggestions that extroverts learn more easily through interactive roleplay, and introverts through analytical exercises).

    i suspect certain people just have much better listening skills than others.

    (And you're right; that's part of aptitude.)

    Phonology is typically not perfectly learned as an adult -- but there are many possible reasons for that.
    (i) Phonological categories, once fixed for a L1, are extremely difficult (but not impossible) to "unlearn". (For an English speaker learning Japanese, there are few problems with sound segments, but distinguishing vowel length -- and in some cases, consonant length -- is much harder, and distinguishing pitch accent is notoriously difficult.)
    (ii) There is usually no real practical (instrumental) motivation to get the accent perfect , because communication is not greatly affected by slight variations in accent.(iii) There may not be any social (integrative) motivation to perfect an accent, either, because some foreign accents are positively valued.
    (iv) Under the heading of environment: Acquiring accent requires a huge amount of spoken input, and active practice -- thus to get pronunciation correct, adults absolutely need to be learning the L2 by immersion, not as a classroom "foreign language".

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1887 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    NZ would offer as much with a moderate increase in the funding, they are well used to stretching on the 'smell of an oily rag' here.

    And there's the real craziness. It will take a lot of money, but not nearly as much as the pallid wonks in Treasury fear as they gaze at their global sources and apply old-fashioned stereotypes about resourcefulness. And any extra money will create lots of jobs, though not for burly construction workers and their well-connected bosses who seem to have cornered the market on concern.

    I am hopeful that the current financial crisis might actually make innovative improvements more acceptable to decision-makers. If they listen to the right people.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19683 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I've retained much more of the French I started learning at about seven than the extra French from high school and uni, and almost none of the Russian I learned at varsity. I feel like it's much harder to learn new languages now that I'm old and my brain is slow.

    I agree with mark. An alternative explanation is that you used basic French for longer than more sophisticated French, and much longer than you did Russian, so it is more deeply burned in. I started German, French and Maori at roughly the same ages, and with rougly equal proficiency and aptitude, but of those only the German has stayed with me to any useful extent, and I think that's because it is the language that I continued to study and use into my 20s, and still deploy occasionally. Use it or lose it.

    Now that I'm learning Portuguese I'm finding it much easier than I recall language learning being as a teenager. I'm not sure why, but I think I've got better at rote learning, and as a programmer, I've become used to expressing my thoughts (in an admittedly very narrow range) in artificial languages.

    On another, more apropos note: this story made me verklemt. I felt something clench inside by the time the visit to the hospital came. Of all the things that terrify parents, sure the thought that something is wrong with my baby ranks high on the list.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    (Also, on learning as an adult - I feel there are many more deep concerns competing for my attention now. As a teenager, I could devote hours every day to anything that interested me. If anything's slowing up my various educational endeavours right now, it's time and attention, not capability).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

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