17 March 2011


BILINGUALS. I've long thought that travel to other lands, exposure to other cultures within our own country, and learning new languages enhance one's understanding of the world and oneself -- and the earlier in life, the better. A new study confirms my perspective -- "Learning a foreign language literally changes the way we see the world .... bilingual speakers think differently from those who only speak one language. And you don't need to be fluent in the language to feel the effects. It is language usage, not proficiency, which makes the difference."

The study's jumping-off point was color perception, and sure enough, bilingual people perceive more subtle gradations in color than others. "As well as learning vocabulary and grammar, you're also unconsciously learning a whole new way of seeing the world. There's an inextricable link between language, culture and cognition. If you're learning language in a classroom you are trying to achieve something specific, but when you're immersed in the culture and speaking it, you're thinking in a completely different way .... The benefits you gain are not just in being able to converse in their language -- It also gives you a valuable insight into their culture and how they think .... It can also enable you to understand your own language better and gives you the opportunity to reflect on your own culture."

In high school I spent two years in Latin class, an extremely valuable experience. In college I took a year of Spanish and a year of French, and in hindsight I wish I had stuck with Spanish. In the U.S., it is the more useful second language to learn, since Spanish-speakers comprise a significant portion of the population. (Note: the map above reflects concentrations of Spanish speakers in the year 2000 -- the proportions have grown in the eleven years since then.) I've also long yearned to spend a year abroad doing immersion learning -- Costa Rica, or Guatamala, or Spain. Viva la raza !

MUSIC. Here are a few links to bring a little fun to your day. The first is a cat duet, sung by a boys choir. The second is Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, played on one of my favorite instruments, the glass harp. Finally, in honor of my (and my son's) birthday next week, the Beatles classic When I'm 64, exerpted from their 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine.

PLAYTIME. Laura Seargeant Richardson has published a marvelous, provocative essay titled The Four Secrets of Playtime that Foster Creative Kids. In order to experience play that allows children to become active creators rather than simply passive consumers, Richardson suggests the following criteria (I encourage you to read the entire essay for a richer explanation) --
  • Open environments -- those in which the child gets to be the author, and the medium is open to interpretation.

  • Flexible tools -- the key to innovation and exploration.

  • Modifiable rules -- flexible parameters which can be altered to fit changing needs.

  • Superpowers -- both real and perceived physical and mental skills which maximize the other three criteria.

The article is informative and yes, playful. Much of my own early childhood was spent in a realm of imagination, and my world is the richer for it.

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