Newsletter: The Bilingual Brain!

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The Fidget Spinner

It’s a new toy craze that is sweeping our nation and even reaching across the pond to the UK. These ball-bearing spinners are capturing everyone’s attention to the point where people are making all variations of them possible: a spinner made of crayon, one made of wood, one entirely of fastening nuts for screws. Audiences both young and old are enjoying the latest fad, but is this just any other toy?

The fidget spinner was originally created by a woman named Catherine Hettinger who, due to a muscular autoimmune disorder, needed an alternative way to play with her daughter. It was later marketed to be a focusing agent for children with ADHD and ASD. The way the spinner works is by holding the center piece with usually the thumb and middle finger and spinning the wheel with the other hand. The weights on each of the three ends of the spinner give it such momentum that it can spin on its own for two to three minutes. The marketed age is 8+ and that’s simply because of the small parts the toy is assembled with.

The toy, in short, is addicting- even for myself. If you’re the type of person that gets enjoyment from the sensory firing that a spinning object provides, this is for you. If you’re the type of person that enjoys the motor challenge of balancing a spinning object on the tip of your nose for more than 30 seconds- also for you. But is the toy really helping children with problems focusing? I think not. It seems to be serving as more of a distraction than a helping agent. Children are using the spinners in every situation- at home, at the dinner table, in the bathroom, in the classroom- and although it catches their attention and allows them to focus on the spinner and perfect certain motor skills, is that all it’s doing? Redirecting attention?


Local Events

Here are some bilingual related events happening in the New York City/Long Island area in the upcoming months for the individual and family alike. Click on hyperlinked events to be directed to their respective pages.

March 7, 2017

French Consul Anne-Claire Legendre will host a roundtable today discussing the latest victory for the NYC Department of Education. NYC DOE Chancellor Carmen Farina introduced 68 new dual-language programs that will take effect starting September 2017. The decision was announced last week on February 28, 2017.

April 2, 2017

Bilingual Family Gallery Talk and Art Workshop (Long Island)

April 20, 2017

2017 NYC Bilingual and Diversity Job Fair


American Museum of Natural History- Special Exhibit on Cuba




Everyday Problems and Simple Solutions

We face some of our biggest problems every single day and what we fail to frequently think about are their simple solutions. Here are some examples.

  1. Problem: Someone’s not at the front desk in the office and other researchers are in their private offices. How do you know if a participant is waiting?
    • Solution: Place a bell on the on the front desk.
  2. Problem: People often use bathroom tissue to open the bathroom door, but then throw it on the floor.
    • Solution: Put the garbage pale near the door. Schools actually started utilizing this system.
  3. Problem: Appointments must be canceled due to weather inclement.
    • Solution: Make sure all of those participants receive emails, calls, or texts notifying them of the appointment changes.
  4. Problem: Someone is off from work today, but something important comes up in the office that they can only access from that computer.
    • Solution: Download a remote desktop application for efficiency anywhere, anytime.
  5. Problem: Homework is due every Tuesday and you keep forgetting to do them.
    • Solution: Set a recurring reminder for every Sunday letting you know you’ve got 48 hours to complete your assignment.


Doing a Cross-Cultural Study

The documentary Babies is phenomenal. For one reason or another, we tend to think of development within a narrow scope. When we think of how children learn new words, we may say that they learn through books or television. What makes us think, though, that every child has access to these luxuries? The film highlights the stages of growth in each of these children’s lives- from their birth to crawling, babbling, and beyond. The way a child learns to speak in Namibian tribe, where there is no such thing as literature, is much different then a child learning in Tokyo, Japan. When engaging children in studies it’s important to realize and be sensitive to these differences, as they will greatly affect the way they learn.

I tried to think up a simple study that would analyze children’s learning and utilization patterns across cultures and assess if and where lie the differences in methodologies used in both groups. So in a hypothetical experiment here is how I would proceed:

  • Objective
    • The current study will aim to see if 18-month old infants who are taught a word for a tangible object in another language will identify the object in a setting-specific picture in their native language or in the language that they learned. The goal is to see whether children would identify an object in a picture based on the characters and setting in the picture.
  • Participants
    • Participants will include 30 American and 30 Japanese 18-month old infants.
  • Methods and Design
    • This will be a longitudinal study done over a number of months to allow the children acquisition of the new word. We won’t strive for total perfection, since they are quite young for that, but can gather the basic phonemes they’re putting together, we can count this a successful identification.
    • Learning the new word
      • This may require not only learning the new word, but also training the child in that language “What is this?” If the child hears the question in their own language, there may be a bias to answer accordingly. The person asking and teaching the child would be a native speaker of the language the child is trying to acquire. This would accustom the child to the kind of person that speaks this given language.
      • The child would then be shown a picture  that correlates with the language they just learned. This may mean that an American infant is shown a video or book that is set in Japan and reflects Japanese culture.
      • An experimenter will point to that given object that was taught and ask “What is this?” in the target language. Will the child ignore the question in that language? Will the child even understand it? Will they proceed to answer in English? Will they actually answer in Japanese given the setting and language of the prompt?

American and Japanese children were chosen under the basic assumption that the sample would be collected from urban cities where there is access to media (such as literature and television). Because these two cultures have those availabilities in common, the children may be assessed under the assumption that they have the same capabilities in understanding real life portrayal in medium. Based on the film, American and Japanese cultures seem to have similarities in the ways babies are raised and the ways in which they learn. For this reason, methodologies will remain the same across subjects.

When I thought of the idea for the study, it seemed much simpler. There are obvious flaws with this outline, but this is more or less something I’m interested in observing in infants- cross cultural sensitivity, I suppose you can call it. It is particularly interesting for me because at 23 years old, I find myself switching accents (and languages where I can) depending on the environment I am in. Friends, family, and even strangers (when I tell them, no, I am not Greek/Russian/Albanian) are confused as to why I do it. I realized, however, that I do it subconsciously and merely as an effort to have the other person better understand me in tones and inflections they can understand. I just wonder how young children can learn this skill- or what I think is one- and how we can expand on their abilities.





Crawling Just Isn’t That Easy

When a task is engaging, it can offer so much insight and even entertainment. Today, I crawled like an infant… and it was miserable.

I’m glad that as Homo sapiens, we learn quite young that sometimes less is more and two legs are better than four. I tried crawling like a baby for about 4 minutes and what a whole new world! Well- an old world, rather. This is what I had discovered.

First of all, crawling just isn’t that easy. Maybe it’s no longer effortless because my body is old and achy (at 23, go figure) and I would like to think that I’m accustomed to walking upright. I immediately felt the pressure of my body shifting to my palms and knees. I sat up several times to allay this discomfort and I wondered- “do babies sit up for this same reason?” My brain branched into different theories about infants’ still-pending patella formation and how knee cartilage may act as a little cushion- but I digress. So, now that my knees were thoroughly aching after 72 seconds, I tried setting up a goal to get from point A to point B in my living room.

Absolutely treacherous.

It takes quite a long time to reach your destination. The hands and knees definitely aren’t the JetBlue of infant mobility. Interestingly enough, babies pick up on this eventually and realize- “hey… it’s time to switch to first class.” Karen Adolph, professor at NYU and head of the university’s Infant Action Lab, published a fine study explaining how infants make the transition to walking to increase efficiency and insight. Check that out if possible.

Then came the point where I wanted something from the table. I pulled on my brother’s leg to get it for me- which at this point, my poor almost-college-freshman brother started wondering if this is what university would decimate him to. Vision was another obstacle. You can only see so much when your head is 7 to 11 inches above the ground and picking up your neck to look at the ceiling doesn’t happen so frequently. Those poor, chubby necks!

Child Friendly Office Setting

When dealing with children, it’s essential to understand that their comfort is of the utmost importance. They may not quite understand why they’re being brought to a study or know how to express any uneasiness they may feel. When inviting young participants to a study, you would want them to feel comfortable from the moment they walk in. The waiting room is a great place to start. The setup of that room is crucial to social and emotional anxieties children also feel; so, what could we put on the walls to a 10-year-old feel at ease?

Originally, I had thought to not even put posters, but to lay out the walls with a series of activities (mazes, tic-tac-toe, things to that effect) so they could stay occupied while waiting. I still think it’s an interesting idea, but for the sake of this prompt I thought something more static might work too. So the idea came to me to hang posters of young children with careers. This would include things like a child president giving a speech, a child professor lecturing an auditorium of adults, a child chef, and a child police officer. Seeing these images would render children confused enough, I think, to ask questions and think about what they’re seeing. It would spark conversation with their guardian by them maybe saying “that’s going to be me one day!” It’s a core belief of mine that children must be spoken with and reasoned with in order to raise them effectively.

The idea came to me after remembering a recent trip of mine to the Apple- Upper East Side store. Huge posters (probably LEDs) of Nintendo’s Mario characters filled the walls and I can imagine my office being as symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing. Have a look.

appleUESI certainly felt like a kid and even though I went in for a MacBook, I really just enjoyed looking at the walls (while simultaneously saving $1300).





Post-Testing Music

Caring for the children’s well-being doesn’t just stop at the waiting room or even the testing. Once children have completed the study, a short relaxation period may prove beneficial. Having kids listen to music is one way of offering this relaxation. There are no particular songs that I could mandate, however, because children have their own musical preferences. To each his own and this is no different for them. If the task is meant to put the children in a good mood, shouldn’t the music be tailored to their liking?