Author Archives: BRL

Embracing Bilingualism in the Classroom: What Role Will You Play?

The article beings with a quick anecdote about the author, Daniella Suarez and her recollections from her first day of 5th grade as a new student at a Florida Public elementary school.  Her story is one rooted in profiling based on language, name, and race. Something that has occurred in the past and continues to happen today, due to the political climate of people who wish to silence those who speak another language, according to Suarez. Her story begins on the first day of her new school; Suarez tells that although she had tested into gifted classes, was fluent in both English and Spanish, and was scoring in the 99th percentile on state assessments, she was still singled out and taken to an English-as-a-second-language class.  She recalls that back then this didn’t make sense to her and that she began to doubt herself even more because of it.

Suarez argues that as a nation we have a troubled history dealing with bilingualism even though the United States often labels its self a “nation of immigrants” and this is due enlarge because of politics. She then states that people from the United States tend to forget that many of those “immigrants” did not cross U.S. boarders, but instead that the U.S. boarders crossed them.  An example of this written by Patricia Gandara and Kathy Escamilla states that by the 19th century, the United States had annexed land from Mexico and sovereign indigenous nations. During this time indigenous languages received no support in bilingual education such as languages like German, French, and Spanish which did, and therefore were forced to give up their lands, culture, and language. However, after World War I the United States embraced “Americanization,” and English-only education became law for many states thus getting rid of the German, French, and Spanish language in schools. Due to this Spanish-speaking students along the Mexican-American boarder became subject to segregation and were taught only in English which causes school completion rates to drop tremendously for those students.

Then in 1959, the Cuban Revolution resulted in a mass migration from Cubans to Miami according to Suarez and because they were wealthier and more educated then Mexican counterparts, they were able to demand a more powerful bilingual education system by establishing businesses and electing Cubans into public offices. This gave way to the Coral Way School which later became a nationwide model for bilingual education. Suarez notes that although Cubans in the 90’s were advancing, Haitian and Nicaraguan students were not, and this was most likely because these groups were largely undocumented. She argues that because English-learners still face similar political and cultural barriers as educators it is important to be careful not to reinforce rhetoric that stigmatizes immigrants and promotes an English-only culture.

Nowadays federal regulations have pushed states to create formal structures for students to enter and exit ELL programs, as well as allow for more flexible testing. However, because of things like high-states testing many schools have opted out of exploring bilingual models and often only promote English education. Today, things are changing according to Suarez and bilingual programs are here to stay due to the benefits they provide for english-learners. They provide a safe space for learning, allow children to experience academic success in their home language, and invite families to take part in their child’s education. This is also helpful for English speakers because it gives them opportunity to practice empathy and experience greater inclusivity. Suarez urges educators of their responsibility in defending and promoting bilingualism in their classrooms, school sites, and districts. She challenges educators to check their biases as students learn a new language because many of these students are also learning a new culture and education system, and these students should be met half way. Finally, she says that the feeling of being singled out has never left her, and therefore educators should be aware of what all of their students experience in and outside of school so that all students can feel safe and can be capable of authentic self-expression at school.





Raising a Truly Bilingual Child


True bilingualism by Klass’ definition means the ability to speak two languages proficiently as a native. Something he believes is a struggle and only few can reach. He argues that competent bilingualism probably only exists in countries outside of the United States, because in the United States children aren’t exposed to other languages. Early exposure to other languages however, can offer certain advantages when it comes to facilitating the formation of sounds in those languages. One key point that Klass touches on is that a child’s natural language ability alone will not be enough for true bilingualism, a massive amount of person to person exposure of both languages and effort are required as well.  This is difficult to do in the United States because of its monolingual environment, Erika Hoff says.

The article touches base on how a stronger sense of a language can be achieved through different types of exposures, for instance through literature. Hoff argues that a child who is learning two languages will have a limited vocabulary in both when compared to a child only exposed to one language, meaning that it takes longer to acquire two languages than one. However, Hoff claims this is not a problem provided the child receives enough input. Still, Hoff defends that when it comes to two languages in the United States, English will outweigh the Spanish exposure and thus cause the speaker of both languages to become more proficient in English. Whatever the case may be, the earlier exposure a child receives the more native they will sound. Although true bilingualism can be rare, the skills a child learns along the way are very valuable as well as a great advantage and therefore should be pursued.

Full article:

Upcoming Conference: GALA 13

GALA 13 will take place at the Universitat de les Illes Balears (UIB), in Palma de Mallorca, Spain on September 7-9, 2017.

This conference takes place every other year, and it is attended by research mainly from Europe, but also from other parts of the world. The main objective of the conference is to provide a common space for researchers studying human language acquisition in all its manifestations: second language acquisition, bilingual and multilingual acquisition, acquisition of a heritage language, etc. Additionally, the conference also provides a common space for researchers working on pathologies that have or may have an effect on language acquisition.

Many interesting research projects will be shared in this conference, specially those from the keynote speakers João Costa (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), Anna Gavarró Algueró (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Barbara Höhle (Universität Potsdam), and Natascha Müller (Bergische Universität Wuppertal).

Additional information can be found in the following link:


English and German: Two languages, two ways of looking at the world

Do you speak more than one language? Does your worldview change when you use one or the other? A study by Panos Athanasopoulos (published in Psychological Science) examined how German/English bilinguals and also monolinguals responded to a number of questions in order to see how they perceived reality.

Bilingual participants were shown video clips of events with a motion in them (i.e. a woman walking towards a car or a man cycling towards the supermarket) and were then asked to describe the scenes. It is important to note that, according to Athanasopoulos, in general, monolingual German speakers tend to describe the action but also the goal of such action. So, they would say something like “A woman walks towards her car” or “a man cycles towards the supermarket”. Monolingual English speakers, however, will describe those scenes as “a woman is walking” or “a man is cycling”, without mentioning the goal of the action. Athanasopoulos explains that this is because the worldview assumed by German speakers is a holistic one (i.e. they tend to look at the event as a whole), whereas English speakers tend to zoom in on the event and focus only on the action.

So, how did German/English bilinguals perform? According to the researcher, “they seemed to switch between these perspectives based on the language context they were given the task in”. He also adds that these findings are in line with other research conducted on different language pairs that also looks that distinct behavior in bilinguals depending on the language of operation.

Do you feel like a different person when you speak each of your languages? Let us know in the comments.


For more information about the study visit:


Learning a second language as an adult

For a long time, experts have thought that learning a second language “successfully” was impossible for adults. However, a new study carried out at the University of California at Riverside has shown that “adults are capable of learning and processing a new language” like native speakers.

In this experiment, researchers looked at native English speakers who were learning Spanish as a second language. More specifically, they looked at how these speakers understood “sentences in Spanish that contained (…) aspects of Spanish grammar that do not exist in English”. Some errors were also introduced in order to see if participants could detect them. As mentioned above, the results showed that it is possible for adults to learn a second language like a native speaker.

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Students should learn second language to prevent dementia in later life

Learning a second language should be recommended to students in order to prevent dementia. Some studies have revealed that certain types of dementia appear five years later in bilinguals than in monolinguals. That is, “bilingual people have a cognitive reserve that delays the onset”. Professor Sorace recommends children to learn languages from age five until they finish university:“Languages should be a requirement for any kind of degree”.

Professor Sorace compared retired people who were doing an intensive course in Gaelic  with other active retired people. They found that in those who were doing a language course, the brain responded better than in monolinguals. That is, bilingual people had an improvement in cognitive functions. Therefore, they believe that education can protect people against developing dementia and highlight the importance of learning languages from childhood.

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In this blog, we have presented several benefits of being bilingual. We have also shown that bilinguals’ brains behave somewhat differently (in a positive way) when compared to monolinguals’. In addition, in a fairly new experiment carried out by Jubin Abutalebi of the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, the relationship between being bilingual and a slower development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been studied.

They found that bilinguals develop AD slower than monolinguals, and the provide a possible explanation for that. First of all, in previous studies it has been shown that bilinguals with AD have more atrophy in the brain than monolinguals with the same disease. However, it seems that AD takes more time to develop in bilinguals’ brain because they have “better connectivity between intact neurons”. Abutalebi, however, mentions that “only those who really use the two languages are protected”. In any case, the findings in this study are undoubtedly crucial for future investigations.

Full article:

Being bilingual alters your brain. Here’s how

New benefits for bilinguals! A new study reveals that being bilingual can affect your brain by changing its structure. According to Judith F. Kroll,  bilinguals’ ability to retain two languages and to alternate between them has an effect on the reshaping of the brain’s network.

In a recent study, they analyzed 60 monolingual and 60 bilingual infants whose ages ranged between four-month old, eight-month old, and one-year old babies. They noticed that when someone was speaking, infants exposed to Spanish and Catalan looked at speaker’s mouth instead of their eyes. Infants that were only exposed to Spanish, on the other hand, looked at the mouth of speakers only when they were talking their native tongue.This study suggests that being bilingual improves their cognitive abilities because “babies who are listening to two languages [growing up] become attuned to those two languages right away. It’s not confusing them or messing them up developmentally—the opposite is true”.

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Sorting out what happens in the aging brains of bilinguals

In our last posts we have shown the advantages of being bilingual in children. However, what happens to bilinguals’ brain when they age? Several studies have claimed that bilingualism increases resilience to losing brain capacity. Recently, Perani and her colleagues carried out an experiment in which they compared patients with Alzheimer’s, both monolingual and bilingual.

The results revealed that bilinguals were better at ‘verbal short-term memory and long-term memory’. In addition, monolinguals had more advanced signs of disease. On the other hand, bilinguals were around five years older. In any case, other experts like Duñabeitia claim that more longitudinal studies are needed in order to get clearer conclusions.

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Bilingual Brains Have Better Attention and Focus

In addition to the several advantages of bilingualism mentioned in this blog, a recent study has found that bilinguals have better attention and focus.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham recruited 99 participants from which 48 were English-Chinese bilinguals while the other 51 were English monolingual speakers. Participants carried out 3 different tasks: the Simon task, the Spatial Stroop task and the Flanker task. These tasks consisted on indicating the direction or the color  of arrows and squares while ignoring extra information. Both groups scored similarly. However, the monolingual speakers had slower responses than bilinguals.

Researchers concluded that bilinguals are better at focusing because the response time of bilinguals was faster than monolinguals’. According to the researchers, this could be due to the fact that “the lifetime task of switching between languages appears to enhance the ability to maintain attention.”

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