As I dive deeper into research related to my topic, I am surprised to see so much controversy around it! I was most definitely not expecting that. I am simultaneously taking my senior research class alongside this research project so sometimes the two topics get a bit intertwined into my head.
I’ve discovered that I am very interested in the area of studies related to bilingualism and it’s relativity to cognitive flexibility and executive functions. I’ve decided to zone into one specific skill related to this for this research project, which as of right now is be working memory.
What I mean by my earlier statement about the controversy surrounding this topic is that, while there is a lot of published research supporting the idea that bilingual individuals have an advantage in skills related to cognitive flexibility and other executive functions, there is also an equal, if not more research done opposing this theory. A lot of the opposing research actually discredits any supporting evidence related to this. One article critique I came across actually argues that when looking closely at test results of the supporting evidence, the research often yields null results or show minimal differences between the bilingual and monolingual groups. Other opposing research question the validity of the types of tests used during their experiments and claim that the tests used were very task-specific assessments and more domain-free executive assessments should be used instead. Another peer-reviewed article that I came across claims that often times, authors overlook imperative factors when selecting participants for their research, such as the amount of second language exposure given, and other influences of multilingual backgrounds.
While some might find this information rather discouraging and question the validity of their topic, I found this helpful because this gives me a clearer idea of how to better conduct my research in a way that won’t be as easily discredited. I plan on going over the opposing research, narrowing down the factors stated by authors who disagree with my theory, and adopting them into my research.
After reviewing my topics of interest and any research questions I had brainstormed with my mentor, we stumbled across this article. I’m used to being told I have a tendency of speaking fast in both languages I speak, English and Dominican Spanish. I am aware Dominican Spanish is very quick as we are loose with our /r/ like many Caribbean dialects but I never realized whether the familiarity was being stored somewhere in my brain leading to translation into my English. All of this then made me think if the rate of speech of one’s native dialect affects language acquisition and if so, what’s the difference? “As such, this study represents a first step towards a broader goal of understanding information transmission via an L2 speech channel.” This was a quote that stood out to me as I thought on how common bilingualism is for there not to be more research done on these effects and inspired me to possibly play a role in filling that gap!
This study was was inspired by the phenomenon that individuals who speak two or more languages have imbalance present in their native language. Most importantly, the presence of a big contrast in the temporal domain of the information being encoded and transmitted. The data was measured through articulation rate, acoustic syllable duration, number of acoustic syllables, information density, information rate, and acoustic syllable reduction and 351 language samples between three different languages, English, French, and Spanish which are widely spoken. It concludes that the second language speech was produced with a slower rate and lower information density than that of first language. This conclusion was the assumption I went in having before even reading this article. It turns out that my thought of the rate of speech of my native language playing a tie into the rate of speech of my second language wasn’t so far off. Turns out that bilinguals have a tendency of combining fully articulated words rather than shorter phonetic forms that are typical in second languages.
Bradlow, Ann R. “Information Encoding and Transmission Profiles of First-Language (L1) and Second-Language (L2) Speech.” Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, vol. 25, no. 1, 2021, pp. 148–162., https://doi.org/10.1017/s1366728921000717.
The fastest and most efficient language learners in the world are actually babies! I recently watched a TED talk about this topic. Naja Ferjan Ramirez discussed the key difference in regards to brain activity between monolingual and bilingual babies. Her research was specific to babies that were only exposed to english, and babies who had caregivers that also spoke Spanish in addition to english. Ramirez’s research showed that while both monolingual and bilingual babies were processing the sounds of the English language, monolingual babies were able to to process the sounds of English and Spanish.
What I personally found very interesting during this TED talk was the second set of findings of Ramirez’s research. She claims that bilingual babies showed significantly more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that is responsible for our attention, switching to different tasks, and executive function. She explains how this might be the result of these babies having to constantly switch from processing one language to the other. That must mean that when these babies grow up and become adults, they will be that much better at multi-tasking and more skilled at completing tasks that require cognitive-flexibility.
In her conclusion, Ramirez spoke about how beneficial it would be for parents to have access to an environment in public education where their babies can learn different languages at a very early age. I personally felt very inspired by this idea! Especially because I have spent over six years working at daycare and can attest to this concept. I have seen babies who come from a monolingual (English) household pronounce Arabic words very clearly and very native like. I hope that our education system adopts this idea so that the future generation of babies will all be equipped with these cognitive skills.
Creating bilingual minds. (2017). YouTube . Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://youtu.be/Bp2Fvkt-TRM.
A research article from the MIT new office on August 30th, 2022 had a very interesting research discussion centered around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and linguistics. Researchers from MIT, Cornell University, and McGill University have recently created an artificial intelligence system that analyzes human languages through speech sounds and word structure. The researchers didn’t give the AI any prior linguistic information because they wanted to see how much the AI can learn on it’s own. The researchers put the AI to the test by implementing problems from linguistic textbooks that featured 58 total languages. The problems had sets of words and corresponding word-form changes. The AI was capable of correctly creating a set of rules to explain the word form changes for 60% of the problems. I find this extremely impressive because the AI had no prior knowledge about linguistics and was able to easily create solutions on difficult subjects. Many linguists in the past have assumed that in order to gain a grasp on linguistics, you need to of course be human because of the human element involved in linguistics. Linguists never thought that AI could understand sound patterns and sound structure because it was thought that only humans could. The researchers than gave the AI knowledge about linguistics, similar to the knowledge that humans would obtain from a linguistic course. This resulted in the AI solving problems even more effectively. This research article shows how powerful AI can be, especially in the linguistic world. I believe that in the future, artificial intelligence will play a large role in helping people understand and learn more about language.