Does Being Bilingual Have Unsuspected Benefits?

langthoughtIt’s long been argued being bilingual provides a leg up in life, and even anecdotal evidence suggests that is true. For example, individuals who speak more than one language are often sought after for higher paying jobs. However, recent studies indicate there are previously unrecognized benefits to learning more than one language.

According to a recent study conducted at the University of Chicago and published in Psychological Science (, children learning a second language were generally better able to grasp the intention of another person, even when that intention was not verbalized. In other words, bilingual children were more empathetic than monolingual children. The research was conducted using young children, as statistics suggest language skills learned at very young ages have a more profound effect on other areas of development than when a second language is learned later in life.

The same study also indicated that in children not yet fluent speakers of the second language the ability to better empathize is still present. While there is certainly disagreement over the reason for this perceived higher level of empathy, the fact remains it appears to be present in the vast majority of children learning a second language when quite young.

Does that increased ability to empathize occur when older individuals learn a second language? At this point, there is no indication individuals learning another language later in life enjoy that same enhanced ability to empathize. However, even older adults enjoy a variety of benefits from learning a second, or even third, language. It’s also important to understand adult brains function differently than those of young children, and the same tests employed by the University of Chicago researchers would not be appropriate for studying changes in adult behavior resulting from learning another language.

While most experts agree children learn additional languages more easily when quite young, there is no reason to ignore the opportunities older individuals can take advantage of by learning a new language. While older people may not learn a new language as quickly as a young child does, any learning experience is beneficial, no matter how old the learner happens to be. Anyone considering a new career or planning to travel abroad is encouraged to take advantage of opportunities to learn a new language.

If you’re looking for ideas, you could take a community college class, or you could learn at home using a computer software system.  There are several great programs out there on the market for people who are looking to learn at home, one being the Rocket Languages program.  This program is excellent and comes in many different languages.  It’s also designed to allow learners to take the program with them on the road so they never miss a day.  Staying consistent is one of the biggest keys when it comes to learning a new tongue.  Also, Spanish is the easiest to learn for English speakers, and seems to be the most useful.

Will Technology Fix Education?

techclassroomThere are a lot of problems with the educational system, as many will acknowledge.  However, not everything is wrong, and we can definitely do a lot to help it out with technology.  But is is going to be like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound?  It’s hard to say.  It greatly depends on how the technology is harnessed by teachers and school systems.

In this excerpt I found from an article, it’s strongly thought that technology is not a “fix” per se, but merely a tool that can (and has to be) properly used in order to be of much use.

“There’s not going to be any technology fix for education,” says Seymour Papert. “Change,” he says, “has to start with a new perspective on education. Our present system is fundamentally wrong. It’s out of date> it’s obsolete. Technology can help us to think in a bolder way about alternative education, but [there are] still too many people thinking only about how to use technology within the present system. They’re treating the symptoms while the patient is dying.”

According to Papert, educational technology will fulfill its potential only as fundamental changes occur in schooling over the long term. In that regard, he believes that there are several significant developments to look forward to in the coming decade. “First,” he says, “the computer is going to be established as an integral part of learning in the ’90s.” This, he says, will help to “create an atmosphere in which really radical and novel ideas can be born.”

In grappling with the fundamental issues of teaching and learning, Papert and his colleagues at the Media Lab are experimenting with a number of new educational uses of technology. One exciting project involves the development of robotic kits that allow children to build computer intelligence into a robot. (Most existing kits require the robot to be attached to a standard computer.) The Media Lab has already developed a matchbook-size computer, equivalent in power to an Apple II, that resides within a LEGO brick. This onboard computer, which will run Logo, has the potential to extend the power and flexibility of products such as LogoWriter and LEGO TC Logo, creating an even richer set of construction elements.

Papert and his colleagues are also working on a post-Logo programming language. “Current programming languages,” he says, “still reflect the basic programming structures of the ’60s and ’70s. In the ’90s we’ll need to develop programming structures that can take advantage of advanced hardware.” One practical example, says Papert, is multiprocessing: “Multiprocessing is important because it makes it easy for children to work interactively with several objects at once.” Researchers at the Media Lab are working on a post-Logo prototype in which a child can have 1,000 different turtles, each simultaneously running a different program. Such a language allows a user to program a colony of ants, for example, with each ant programmed to interact with many other programmable objects.

Unfortunately, such languages require more sophisticated hardware than that currently found in schools. But Papert is optimistic that machines with the power of today’s Macintosh IIs and high-end IBM PS/2s will become widely affordable to schools within the next two to three years.

In addition to hardware and software development, Papert is very interested in “empowering teachers to be bold enough to think about and be open to change. We can’t create a new education without people who will do it,” he claims. He sees his group’s projects not so much as products that will change schools, but as ideas that will help “change the minds of enough teachers to begin a movement that will ultimately change education.”