Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Bilingual Brain

Students who speak English as a second language are the largest growing student population in the U.S., and Hispanics comprise 11% of the U.S. population. So what are the consequences of bilingualism for language learning and learning differences? They are significant, though the number of practical recommendations from educational groups to parents or teachers are surprisingly few.

From the brain research perspective, it looks like different languages are stored in roughly overlapping areas, although more territory is needed to mobilize the second learned language, and an area of the frontal lobe (executive function) is needed to supervise switching between languages. As a result, signals can be jammed in bilingual learners (in the phonological loop) and attention and brain resources can be divided. The result can be reduced accuracy and fluency in both languages. The red arrow below points to the extra region of brain that has to be used for language selection.



Maybe this is why gifted bilingual children are less likely to be recognized by teachers and standard assessment tools as gifted. We've listed some links for resources about bilingual learning and giftedness, but in some references when bilingual students are mentioned as being generally better as visual or hands-on learners, we wonder whether this is inherently true, or just the result of their having to otherwise take in lessons through their second acquired language.

There are other kettles of fish with bilingualism as well - including the difficulty identifying dyslexia in ESL students and the occurence of monolingual dyslexia (dyslexia in only 1 of 2 known languages).

Language Switching
Strategies for Teaching Hispanic Students
Identifying Hispanic Gifted Children
Second Language Interferes with Word Production in Fluent Bilinguals
Gifted and Talented Minority Language Students
IngentaConnect Phonology in the Bilingual Stroop effect
Second Language Interferes with Word Production in Fluent Bilinguals

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