Archivo de la etiqueta: aprendizaje de idiomas

The Language of Bollywood: Multilingualism in India

India does not have a majority language. Hindi and English are specified as national languages of the Indian Union in the constitution and Hindi has the most native speakers (more than 422 million according to the Government Census of India 2001), but it is still below the 50 per cent mark. Beyond the figures given in the census, however, Hindi is also widespread as a second or third language. It is learnt in the schools, in the armed forces, at work, among friends and on the street, or simply through the mass media. In all, 22 of the Indian languages recognised in the constitution are spoken by about 98% of the population. Following independence in 1947, the establishment of numerous states of the Indian Union according to linguistic criteria gave official recognition to and enhanced the identity-creating potential of these constitutional languages. With their elevation to national and administrative languages, they became a factor of delimitation in relation to political competitors from other regions. The official status not only gave them in a new position, but also successively changed their quality. By building up in a deliberate fashion vocabulary and registers of the national languages, for example for school education, technology transfer, administration and, not least, for the purpose of consolidating the respective state-supporting medium, the dichotomy between a ‘developed’, standardised, written official code and a highly diverse ‘common language’ has been intensified. At the same time the differences and boundaries between the various national languages have come more to the fore.

Bollywood film, music and dance productions, on the other hand, appear as a popular medium in which a linguistic continuum between sharply delineated individual languages in India is successfully projected, even though the performers’ underlying Hindi/Urdu testifies to roots in the family of Indo-European languages, and Bengal and South India have their own flourishing film industry in Bengali and Dravidic respectively. The traditional porosity linguists find in the language boundaries in India is also characteristic of the use of language in the Bollywood films. The attitude that individuals of differing regional, cultural and social origin may speak in different ways, but do not therefore necessarily communicate in a foreign language, meaning that one is operating in a linguistic continuum, is based more on a feeling than on a clear awareness of fluid boundaries. Just as English changed in the course of its “indianisation”, so Indian national and regional languages do not emerge in the standardised form of a written language, but as variants according to the communicative, economic, religious or cultural contexts. Such flexibility is the characteristic feature of the language of Bollywood. The underlying Hindi acts as an adaptable carrier language which can absorb not only different modes of speech of native speakers, but which can also and effortlessly insert elements from other Indian languages.

With the popularity of the film productions, which has now extended way beyond the sub-continent, Hindi has also achieved a greater spread and acceptance and is at the same time held in higher regard. Campaigns on the part of the Indian government to promote Hindi as a national language, a heavily sanskritised Hindi as used previously in the state media or the Hindi ordered as mandatory in the schools, have not only experienced little success, but have often even been counterproductive: alongside the suspicion that the language was being used to establish a hegemony of the North Indian elite, Hindi was also seen as imposed, sterile and conservative and the instruction in schools often stifled the little natural affinity and enthusiasm still remaining.

As Bollywood films show, the example of India can provide interesting insights into how to handle multilingualism. Here another language is not necessarily seen as a foreign language which can only be learnt with great effort in educational institutions. In particular the life in large Indian cities, and not only there, demonstrates that multilingualism acquired by formal or informal means can be completely normal. Most people in India grow up in a multilingual environment, and they know and use more than one language. Without an adequate communicative competency in different languages, it is difficult to survive in the day-to-day social and occupational routine. Instead of a binary relationship between a native and a foreign tongue, as is common in monolingual European societies, a functional multilingualism is frequently cultivated. Although it should be said that often not all the components of the linguistic repertoire are equally well formed, which means that a switching between different languages is necessary according to the subject, situation and partners involved. The aim is not perfection and purity, but the ability to engage in mutual communication.

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20140704_234022English language learning must go hand in hand with multilingualism


I shall, in the first instance, acknowledge the importance of the widespread desire for English in India, Second, I shall argue that this desire, traditionally seen as antagonistic to the interests of indigenous languages and literatures, need not be so if we were to frame the debate differently, (our postcolonial location offers such a possibility!) and finally, I shall suggest that new techniques and practices must be found urgently to combine English language learning with multilingualism.

The globalisation of the Indian economy in the 1990s seemed to signal the need for a globalised workforce. Academic and ideologue Kancha Illiah notes that since the backward class people of India “had no entry to the colonial English world,” the new move to teach English in all government schools becomes a welcome one. Illiah disagrees with the upper caste contention that “English will destroy the culture of the soil.” “Logically speaking,” he says, “the next step would be the abolition of the gap between the prevalent English medium schools and the government school in terms of both teaching and infrastructure.” (“Dalit and English,” Deccan Herald, September 27, 2012)

New expertise

How can we fulfil the widespread demand for English learning? Could this perhaps be done by the introduction of new variants of English, say of the “basic kind” that the English critic I.A. Richards had spoken of? Additionally, I would argue that in the given scenario, we must have a national policy for English language learning with matching resources and increased institutional support.

“Indian English” has come of age, and has been accepted as a legitimate category the world over. Consequently, we must develop our own expertise suitable to our own conditions. English language and literature must be brought into the fold of the literatures and habitat of postcolonial India. It is here that the teachers of English must address their task in an innovative and professional manner.


And finally, the question of English and multilingualism: we must develop new paradigms and tools for the teaching of English in India. Instead of an approach that upholds a cordon sanitaire between English and Indian languages, English teaching must not be “context neutral.” To be effective, “it has to take into account factors like learner position, textual implication, assumptions underlying teaching methodology, etc.” (Mishra and Murali Krishna, 2007).This could also be furthered by “critical bilingualism”: “the ability to not just speak two languages but to be conscious of the socio-cultural, political and ideological contexts in which the Languages operate” (Walsh, 1991).


What then is our vision of the global English of “the brave new world”? It is to indigenise and localise the teaching of English language and literatures even as we aspire to play our legitimate role in the global turf. English language learning in India must go hand in hand with multilingualism. By such actions, we will be sensitive to plurality in the classroom situation and relate to the varied language/caste/class backgrounds the students come from. This must be as true of our cultural politics as of English teaching in the classroom.

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Multilingualism in the USA

AMERICANS are often told that in today’s globalized world, we are at a competitive disadvantage because of our lazy monolingualism. “For too long, Americans have relied on other countries to speak our language,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at the Foreign Language Summit in 2010. “But we won’t be able to do that in the increasingly complex and interconnected world.”

The widespread assumption is that few Americans speak more than one language, compared with citizens of other nations — and that we have little interest in learning to speak another. But is this true?

Since 1980, the United States Census Bureau has asked: “Does this person speak a language other than English at home? What is this language? How well does this person speak English?” The bureau reports that as of 2009, about 20 percent of Americans speak a language other than English at home. This figure is often taken to indicate the number of bilingual speakers in the United States.

But a moment’s reflection reveals that the bureau’s question about what you speak at home is not equivalent to asking whether you speak more than one language. I have some proficiency in Spanish and was fluent in Mandarin 20 years ago. But when the American Community Survey (an ongoing survey from the Census Bureau) arrived in my mailbox last month, posing that question, I had to answer no, because we speak only English in my home.

I know I’m not alone. There are countless Americans who speak languages other than English outside their homes: not just those of us who have learned other languages in school or through living abroad, but also employers who have learned enough Spanish to speak to their employees; workers in hospitals, clinics, courts and retail stores who have picked up parts of another language to make their jobs easier; soldiers back from Iraq or Afghanistan with some competency in Arabic, Pashto or Dari; third-generation kids studying their heritage language in informal schools on weekends; spouses and partners picking up the language of a loved one’s family; enthusiasts learning languages with computer software like Rosetta Stone. None of the above are identified as bilingual by the Census Bureau’s question.

Every census in the United States since 1890 (except for one, in 1950) has asked about language characteristics, and its question has always seemed to assume that English is the only language relevant for the aspects of life that take place outside the home. This assumption, though outdated, is somewhat understandable. After all, the bureau’s primary goal in asking this question is not to paint a full and complete portrait of the language proficiencies of Americans but rather to track immigrants’ integration into mainstream American society and to ascertain what services they need, and in what languages. (In October, for instance, the Census Bureau released a list of jurisdictions with large numbers of voters who need voting instructions translated in a language other than English.)

Nonetheless, to better map American language abilities, the census should ask the same question that the European Commission asked in its survey in 2006: Can you have a conversation in a language besides your mother tongue? (The answer, incidentally, dented Europe’s reputation as highly multilingual: only 56 percent of the respondents, who tended to be younger and more educated, said they could.) Until the census question is refined, claims about American monolingualism will almost certainly be overstated.

The celebrated multilingualism of not just Europe but also the rest of the world may be exaggerated. The hand-wringing about America’s supposed linguistic weakness is often accompanied by the claim that monolinguals make up a small worldwide minority. The Oxford linguist Suzanne Romaine has claimed that bilingualism and multilingualism “are a normal and unremarkable necessity of everyday life for the majority of the world’s population.”

But the statistics tell a murkier story. Recently, the Stockholm University linguist Mikael Parkvall sought out data on global bilingualism and ran into problems. The reliable numbers that do exist cover only 15 percent of the world’s 190-odd countries, and less than one-third of the world’s population. In those countries, Mr. Parkvall calculated (in a study not yet published), the average number of languages spoken either natively or non-natively per person is 1.58. Piecing together the available data for the rest of the world as best he could, he estimated that 80 percent of people on the planet speak 1.69 languages — not high enough to conclude that the average person is bilingual.

Multilinguals may outnumber monolinguals, but it’s not clear by how much. The average American may be no more monolingual or less multilingual than any other average person elsewhere on the planet. At the very least, we can’t say for sure — not in any language.


Speak American: Be multilingual

Many studies show there are cognitive benefits from being bilingual. Bilingualism increases the executive function of the brain, responsible for planning and problem-solving. Yes, the 4-year-old translating for her parents at the pharmacy has connections in her brain that a monolingual does not and is providing an essential service to our society.

In many fields, if you speak more than one language, you make more money. A bilingual teacher in North Texas can make up to $4,000 more a year for working the same amount as a monolingual teacher. The same teacher also has more job opportunities and security.

Recently, studies are showing that bilinguals develop Alzheimer’s or dementia five years later than people who only speak one language. If any of you, like me, has seen a loved one suffer from severe memory loss, you know how priceless five more years could be.

Who would not want their children to be smarter, have more opportunities, and be in their right mind years longer?

But we are ignoring the untapped resource of our indigenous and immigrant communities. In 2012, there were more than 4.5 million students in U.S. schools learning English as a second language, not even accounting for the fully bilingual students. The census predicts that by 2030, around 40 percent of school-age children will have an immigrant parent.

Many people read this with fear. How will we teach all of them English? Actually, youth are losing their home languages quickly in schools that symbolically privilege monolingualism. Immigrant families usually lose their language by the third generation. But how can we afford bilingual programs? Perhaps the question is: How can we afford not to?

Linguistic incompetence costs money. The United Kingdom claims their lack of multilingualism is costing them 48 billion pounds per year. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has stated: “The United States is a long way from being the multilingual society that so many of our economic competitors are.”

I see the wonderful potential bilingual youth offer us to develop a linguistically competent society.

Still, many people are uncomfortable hearing patriotic songs in multiple languages. To them it feels like losing a country. A country that punished generations of children for speaking their home languages in school.

I understand they feel threatened. If we really think it is better to be bilingual, then monolingual English-speakers lose power — power that has been inherent for generations.

An alternative is to see the beauty of multilingualism. Or we could just want to improve the economy.

Either way, individuals that enrich our country with their languages are certainly a resource for all of us, like my son. In fact, they are perhaps essential to America’s future success in a global economy.

So, I raise my glass of Diet Cherry Coke to the immigrants and people who speak native languages in the United States. Thank you for enriching my life and giving my child what I could never do just on my own.


The right to life, liberty, and multilingualism shouldn´t be discouraged in US

The Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial in January stirred up conversation about whether or not English is, or should be, the true “American” language. While this is not a new conversation, it is a valid one nonetheless.

The United States of American was founded to be a nation of freedom for all peoples from the start; since then, we have struggled to define our national linguistic identity. This has presented a constant cultural crisis that every generation must decide how to cope with in its own way.

Looking back, the U.S. has defined its culture by pushing “American” culture, including the English language, on everyone. Some people think that this is still necessary. But now we’re in a time where being multi-lingual is highly valued throughout the world. It shouldn’t be any different here in the U.S.

In the past, America dealt with this issue by defaulting to the language spoken by a majority of people, or by the people with the most power. Either way, that language was English. I think this was their natural tendency and not necessarily a bad thing; uniting all citizens under a common language makes communication a lot easier for sectors like government, legal processes, education, health care industries and the business world. But, I also think how the nation went about that uniting process, forcing English on Native Americans and immigrants while degrading their native languages, could be a bad thing.

However, in the last half-century or so, with the emphasis on equality, the coming of technology, the new value seen in diversity and the rise of “global citizenship,” we’ve arrived at the place to change that and decide once again how we are going to cope.

So, let’s throw some stats into the picture. The U.S. Census Bureau published the results of their American Community Survey, “Language Use in the United States: 2011″ in August 2013. It found that 20 percent of Americans spoke a language other than English in the home. Of that 20 percent, approximately 78 percent spoke English “very well” or “well” in addition to their native language. It should be noted that this survey was taken of people aged 5 and over, so some survey members may not have even been enrolled in public school, yet.

The same report also found that though the Spanish language has had the largest increase in the number of speakers from 2000-11, its 34 percent increase of speakers was nothing compared to the 115 percent increase of South Asian language speakers. Let these statistics dispel any notion that one single culture is trying to “overrun” any other culture, or that the majority of immigrants don’t know English or aren’t willing to learn. That is simply not factually correct.

There are societal benefits to knowing English. Speaking English can present many opportunities in today’s world; it has become the global language of business and having that skill as a native or fluent speaker is very valuable in the growing global community.

Having a common language- English- as a uniting force in the U.S. is not a bad thing – it makes the gears of government and economy run more smoothly. But on top of that, it serves as a way to unite the nation and give all the cultures a common medium to share their stories with each other. It gives Americans of all backgrounds the opportunity to experience the world without ever having to buy a passport or even (lightbulb!) learn another language.

That being said, why shouldn’t people want to learn other languages? Being proficient in two or more languages is even more valued in the global community. Having interviewed several international students over the past three years, I’ve learned that many developed countries make learning second, third and even fourth languages a requirement in their school systems. Because of that background, I think many immigrants come to the U.S. with the perspective of wanting their children to be bi-lingual or multi-lingual; it can certainly be advantageous. It’s time the rest of us catch up.

It’s time we value the variety of cultures in our nation as an opportunity for great learning and sharing. Coca-Cola put out a “Behind the Scenes” video for their controversial commercial and in it, one of the interviewees stated, “We don’t get to pick and choose whether America should be diverse or not, it is diverse.” It’s time we recognize that our nation is not defined by English, but by its people and all the beautiful stories they bring with them.

So, we’ve come to a time to choose. It’s time we choose to say yes to continuing to teaching English in schools and using it as our primary language, but not as a way to replace other languages. Instead, it should be used as a way to unite them.


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Multilinguisme en Suisse

suisseOfficiellement, la Suisse est un pays plurilingue. Mais aux frontières linguistiques subsistent toujours des zones de frottement.

Exemples de situations quotidiennes dans les villes de Bienne et de Fribourg.

«Quand on parle de bilinguisme, il s’agit de savoir si l’on considère la situation institutionnelle ou les situations individuelles», explique à swissinfo le professeur Iwar Werlen, de l’Université de Berne.

Dans le cadre d’un projet de recherche, ce spécialiste des sciences du langage s’est penché sur l’exemple des réseaux sociaux à Bienne, ville bilingue par excellence.

Iwar Werlen a eu pas mal de peine à mesurer à quel point les habitants maîtrisent réellement les deux langues. Il considère cependant que plus de la moitié des Biennoises et des Biennois parlent vraiment le français et l’allemand.

Le français progresse

Le recensement de la population permet régulièrement de savoir quelles langues sont parlées en Suisse. En l’an 2000, la ville de Bienne comptait 48’000 habitants, dont à peine 14’000 francophones. C’est 14% de moins qu’en 1970.

«Depuis 2000, la ville croît à nouveau et le nombre des habitants de langue française augmente plus vite que celui des habitants de langue allemande», précise toutefois Iwar Werlen.

Ainsi, l’allemand est plutôt en recul, contrairement au français. Une évolution que les spécialistes constatent également dans d’autres centres bilingues le long de la frontière linguistique.

Le mythe de la germanisation

«Depuis 30 ans, la Romandie cultive un mythe qui voudrait que l’allemand étende son territoire aux dépens du français», explique à swissinfo l’historien Bernhard Altermatt.

Un mythe nettement démenti par l’évolution observée à Fribourg. En 1990, sur les 36’000 habitants de la ville, à peine 8300 étaient de langue allemande.

«Depuis le début du 20e siècle, le nombre des germanophones ne cesse de diminuer à Fribourg», observe Bernhard Altermatt. Malgré cela, la peur de la colonisation germanophone continue d’influencer la politique des langues dans la ville et dans les communes limitrophes.

Les ressentiments des francophones

Autre spécialiste du bilinguisme, Claudine Brohy tire un constat similaire. Majoritaires sur le plan national, les germanophones sont minoritaires à Fribourg. La tendance serait donc à le leur faire payer, «même si ce n’est pas toujours pleinement conscient».

«Fribourg ne fait pas grand-chose pour promouvoir activement le bilinguisme, note Claudine Brohy. Cela fait longtemps qu’il n’y a plus de germanophones à l’exécutif de la ville. Au législatif, cela va un peu mieux, mais 90 à 95% des interventions se font en français».

La linguiste explique également à swissinfo que, de l’école enfantine à la fin de la scolarité obligatoire, il n’y a quasiment pas de classes bilingues.

L’influence des «secondos»

A ne pas négliger non plus: l’influence des immigrés et surtout de ceux qui ne parlent ni l’allemand ni le français.

«Les Espagnols, les Portugais ou les Italiens envoient de préférence leurs enfants à l’école française, alors que les Turcs et les Balkaniques choisissent plutôt l’école allemande», remarque Iwar Werlen.

«Le niveau d’intégration des immigrés, surtout de ceux venus des Balkans, est très élevé. La seconde génération utilise l’allemand comme première langue, même si ces jeunes parlent encore leur langue maternelle à la maison», ajoute le professeur.

Les germanophones ne parlent pas que l’allemand

Enfin, l’usage du dialecte alémanique ne favorise évidemment pas la communication.

«Les germanophones préfèrent parler le français que le bon allemand. Et les francophones peuvent toujours invoquer l’excuse de ne pas comprendre le dialecte», fait remarquer Claudine Brohy.

Et ceci n’est pas sans conséquences sur la cohabitation dans les deux villes. «A Fribourg, on abordera spontanément une personne dans la rue en français, observe Iwar Werlen. Alors qu’à Bienne, cela ne se fait pas».


Mehrsprachige Schweiz und einsprachige Schweizer?

Die Schweiz war nie einsprachig, auch wenn die alte Eidgenossenschaft hauptsächlich deutschsprachig geprägt war. Aufgrund seiner Lage und Topographie war das Gebiet der heutigen Schweiz schon immer ein Grenz- und Überschneidungsraum unterschiedlicher Sprachgruppen.

Jedoch wächst in der mehrsprachigen Schweiz der grösste Teil der schweizerischen Bevölkerung einsprachig auf. Nur ein Achtel der schweizerischen Bevölkerung ist mehrsprachig aufgewachsen, in dem Sinne, dass vor der Schulzeit eine zweite Sprache erworben wurde. Mehrsprachig wachsen in der Regel Sprecher von Nichtlandessprachen auf. Sie sind auch diejenigen, die im Alltag mehrsprachig kommunizieren müssen.

Der grösste Teil der schweizerischen Bevölkerung erwirbt in der Schule Kenntnisse anderer Sprachen. Der Grad dieser Bildungsmehrsprachigkeit ist recht unterschiedlich. Trotz aller bildungspolitischen Ziele gibt es Schweizer, die keine Kenntnisse in einer anderen Landessprache erworben haben und sich teilweise auch als einsprachig bezeichnen. Ihr Ant il ist bei Angehörigen der beiden grossen Sprachgruppen Deutsch und Französisch bedeutend höher als bei den kleinen Sprachgruppen Italienisch und Rätoromanisch. Zudem zeigen sich auch innerhalb einer Sprachregion deutliche Unterschiede zwischen einzelnen Kantonen. Ein Fünftel der deutsch- und französischsprachigen Schweizer und ein Drittel der italienischsprachigen Schweizer kann als gebildet dreisprachig, ein Zwanzigstel der Deutsch- und Französischsprachigen und ein Viertel der Italienischsprachigen als gebildet viersprachig ( drei Landessprachen und Englisch ) bezeichnet werden. Kenntnisse aller vier Landessprachen sind praktisch nur bei rätoromanischen Sprechern zu finden.

Behinderte Förderung der Mehrsprachigkeit

Erstaunlicherweise spielt die Schweiz praktisch keine Rolle auf dem Gebiet der Fremdsprachdidaktik. Auch um Förderung der Didaktik der für das «Schweizer Modell» ( jeder spricht seine Sprache und versteht die des anderen ) eigentlich besonders wichtigen Verstehenskompetenz hat man sich erst in  en letzten Jahren bemüht. In der Schweiz findet sich zwar eine der wenigen zweisprachigen Universitäten Europas ( Fribourg/ Freiburg ), aber es existieren, abgesehen von der rätoromanischen Schweiz, weder eine Tradition zwei- oder mehrsprachiger Ausbildung noch zumindest umfassende Unterrichtsversuche. Erst in den letzten Jahren sind mehrsprachige Ausbildungsgänge an einzelnen Gymnasien ( zweisprachige Matura ) und an der Universität Freiburg installiert worden und Projekte für mehrsprachige Ausbildungsgänge an Volksschulen vorgelegt worden. Die Realisierung entsprechender Versuche und Ausbildungsgänge wird von Vertretern einer strikten Auslegung des sprachlichen Territorialitätsprinzips bekämpft.

Die einzelnen Sprachgebiete sind aber keineswegs mehr so homogen wie dies der Idee des Territorialitätsprinzips zugrundeliegt. Sie sind als Folge der Einwanderung ausländischer Arbeitkräfte insbesondere in den städtischen Agglomerationen längst mehrsprachig und auch multikulturell geworden. Die offizielle Sprachpoli ik beginnt das erst zu erkennen. Prinzipiell wird erwartet, dass sich auch ausländische Migranten sprachlich assimilieren, wobei dies in sehr unterschiedlichem Masse gefördert wird. Bei Erwachsenen beschränkt sich das Sprachlernen in der Regel auf ungesteuerten Spracherwerb.

Ein Grossteil der Schweizer Bevölkerung lebt einsprachig innerhalb einer Sprachregion. Eine Ausnahme bilden nur die Rätoromanen, die einzigen mehrsprachigen Schweizer. Die schweizerische Mehrsprachigkeit ist für viele Schweizer höchstens im Hintergrund präsent durch mehrsprachige amtliche Veröffentlichungen und Dokumente, durch mehrsprachige Beschriftung vieler Produkte oder durch gelegentlichen Kontakt mit anderssprachigen Schweizern.

Mehrsprachigkeits- und Sprachkontaktsituationen finden wir ( ausserhalb des rätoromanischen Gebietes und der Deutschhochburgen im italienischsprachigen Tessin ) in Zonen entlang der deutsch-französischen Sprachgrenze und in den nahe dieser Sprachgrenze gelegenen, zweisprachigen Städten Freiburg/Fribourg un  Biel/ Bienne. In Einzelfällen ergeben sich diese Situationen durch ( temporäre ) Bildungsmigration, interne Migration oder zweisprachige Partnerschaften.

Auf nationaler Ebene richtet sich die Wahrnehmung eher auf die Konfliktfälle an der Sprachgrenze. Bei einer Betrachtung des alltäglichen Geschehens in den Gemeinwesen entlang der Sprachgrenze zeigt sich, dass bei allen Problemen und Konflikten die Beziehungen zwischen den Sprachgemeinschaften insgesamt doch durch ein «climat de bonne volonté qui règne» gekennzeichnet sind.

Zwei- und Mehrsprachigkeit kein Wert

Erschwerend wirkt sich in den Sprachgrenzzonen wie in allen anderen Sprachkontaktsituationen gelegentlich die Tatsache  aus, dass der Zweisprachigkeit, der Zugehörigkeit zu wei Sprach- und Kulturgemeinschaften, eigentlich kein Wert beigemessen wird und bestimmte Erscheinungsformen der Mehrsprachigkeit eher negativ bewertet werden. So wird das abwechselnde Verwenden zweier Sprachen oft als mangelnde Sprachbeherrschung aufgefasst. Es zeigt sich auch, das  Zweisprachigkeit zu einem Grossteil ausserhalb der Schule erworben wird, ein Hinweis darauf, dass die Schule gerade in Sprachkontaktzonen mehr zur Förderung der Zweisprachigkeit leisten könnte. Eine höhere Bewertung der Zweisprachigkeit könnte das Leben in Sprachkontaktsituationen durchaus erleichtern. Dies gilt nicht zuletzt auch für interne Migranten, die durch den Wechsel in ein anderes Sprachgebiet zu tiefgreifenden Änderungen ihrer sozialen Verhaltensweisen, ihres Sprachverhaltens und ihrer Sprachvorstellungen gezwungen sind, auch wenn sie im gleichen Land bleiben.

Angst vor Verlusten

Die Schweiz gilt als mehrsprachiger Staat mit erstaunlich wenig Sprachkonflikten. Gründe dafür liegen in der historischen Entwicklung, der föderalistischen Struktur und der Tatsache, dass sich politische, konfessionelle und teilweise auch wirtschaftliche Grenzen nicht mit den Sprachgrenzen decken. Die Sprachsituation der Deutschschweiz mit ihrer Nebeneinander von Hochsprache und Dialekt bietet Konfliktstoff wie auch konfli tverhindernde Elemente, ist doch durch sie die grösste Sprachgemeinschaft weniger eine geschlossene, homogene Gruppe und gleichzeitig auch an Sprachanpassung gewöhnt. Dass sich Sprachkonflikte auch in der Schweiz finden, zeigen sprachpolitische Diskussionen über die Erhaltung des Rätoromanischen oder die Angst der italienischsprachigen Schweiz vor dem Verlust ihrer Italianità. Die öffentliche sprachpolitische Diskussion beschäftigt sich aber zur Hauptsache mit dem Verhältnis der deutschen und französischen Schweiz. Der sogenannte sprachliche Graben zwischen Deutsch- und Welschschweiz ist immer wieder ein Thema politischer Diskussion. Auffällig ist, dass gerade führende Sprachpolitiker sich relativ wenig um sprachliche Fakten oder die effektive Sprachsituation kümmern und linguistisch fundierte Stimmen kaum Gehör finden. Die Fixierung des öffentlichen Augenmerks auf diese Sprachgruppengegensätze führt oft dazu, dass die beträchtlichen Unterschiede innerhalb einer Sprachgemeinschaft übersehen werden.



Bilingualism in Canada

canadaLe bilinguisme canadien : Why it’s important (par Benoît Hardy-Vallée)

Le Canada est un pays bilingue. Plus précisément, non seulement plusieurs Canadiens parlent l’anglais, le français ou les deux langues, mais en plus le bilinguisme est une politique officielle du gouvernement, surveillée par le Commissariat aux langues officielles et protégée par la Constitution. Il faut donc distinguer le bilinguisme individuel (les personnes qui peuvent s’exprimer dans les deux langues) et le bilinguisme institutionnel (la politique du gouvernement fédéral). Bien que distinctes, ces deux notions de bilinguisme ne sont pas pour autant indépendantes.

Le bilinguisme, d’un océan à l’autre

Comme le nord du 49e parallèle a vu s’établir des colons majoritairement anglais et français, ces deux groupes ethniques constituent les deux principaux groupes linguistiques.

Bien que plus d’une centaine de langues soient parlées au Canada, l’anglais et le français comptent de nos jours, selon Statistiques Canada, pour 59 % et 23 % des langues maternelles des Canadiens. De plus, beaucoup d’entre eux sont aussi bilingues : 18 % de la population canadienne, soit près de 5.2 millions d’individus, se définit comme bilingue. La majorité habite la « ceinture bilingue » soit la région qui couvre le nord du Nouveau-Brunswick, le sud du Québec, le nord-est de l’Ontario et le sud du Manitoba, de Moncton (N.-B.) à Saint-Boniface (Man.). Parmi les provinces canadiennes, le Québec comporte le plus haut taux de bilingues : 41 % et ce nombre est en croissance constante. Le Nouveau-Brunswick suit de près avec 34 %.

Depuis l’adoption, en 1969, de la Loi sur les langues officielles, les langues de Molière et de Shakespeare ont une égalité de statut, que ce soit dans les administrations fédérales, les sociétés de la Couronne, les lois et le gouvernement. La Loi—entérinée depuis par la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés—crée aussi le Commissariat aux langues officielles, chargé de promouvoir ladite loi mais aussi la dualité linguistique. Le bilinguisme fait donc partie intégrale de l’appareil étatique canadien, ce qui est reflété dans le fait que, selon une étude réalisée pour le compte du Commissariat, « pour sept Canadiens sur dix, le fait de vivre dans un pays où il y a deux langues officielles permet de définir ce que signifie être un Canadien » (

Cependant, vivre dans un pays bilingue ne signifie pas que tous les Canadiens doivent parler français et anglais. Comme le note le Pr. Monica Heller de l’Université de
Toronto, spécialiste des questions de bilinguisme au Canada, « la politique canadienne encourage les individus à apprendre une autre langue par esprit de compréhension
mutuelle, mais il n’y a rien dans la politique qui oblige personne, en dehors des gens qui visent certains postes au sein de la fonction publique ». Les écoliers canadiens n’ont donc pas à maîtriser les deux langues, mais ont plutôt l’opportunité d’en apprendre une deuxième : aussi 50 % des écoliers anglophones et 60 % des écoliers francophones apprennent-ils une seconde langue.

Une politique bilingue

L’originalité de la politique canadienne est qu’elle permet de vivre en français ou en anglais partout sur le territoire : que ce soit le contenu de votre boîte de céréale ou une question sur le système judiciaire, ces informations vous sont accessibles dans les deux langues. Dans d’autres pays plurilingues comme la Belgique ou la Suisse, note la Pr. Heller, en revanche, les politiques linguistiques sont territoriales. En Belgique, à l’exception de Bruxelles, le pays est divisé en communes francophones, néerlandophone et germanophones. Au Canada, bien qu’il y ait une majorité de francophones au Québec et une majorité d’anglophones dans les autres provinces, les deux types de minorités linguistiques ont accès à des services fédéraux dans les deux langues. On évite donc une politique restrictive où la langue, le territoire et le groupe social sont en parfaite adéquation. Il y a des anglophones à Montréal et des francophones à Regina, et on ne peut donc pas décréter qu’une partie du pays est unilingue anglaises et l’autre unilingue française. Cette homogénéité, note Mme Heller, n’existe tout simplement pas. Notons aussi que rien n’oblige, cependant, les provinces à adopter une politique bilingue; chacune d’elle peut choisir sa propre orientation. Ainsi le Québec est officiellement unilingue français, le Nouveau-Brunswick est officiellement bilingue et les autres provinces sont officiellement unilingues anglaises.

Pourquoi être bilingue ?

Un pays, une population voire une culture bilingue (le film Bon cop bad cop est sans doute le meilleur exemple d’une production culturelle bilingue) constitue un atout pour l’individu comme pour la société. Tout d’abord les recherches en psychologie ont montré que le bilinguisme ou l’apprentissage d’une seconde langue augmentent les capacités de raisonnement et de résolution de problèmes. De plus, les enfants canadiens bilingues démontrent une meilleure compréhension des différences culturelles et une plus grande aptitude à communiquer. En étant bilingue, on devient donc plus ouvert, plus flexible; ces qualités, selon les travaux d’Harold Chorney de l’Université Concordia s’appliquent aussi à la société au complet : notre société, écrivait-il en 1998, « fait davantage preuve de compréhension critique, envisage avec plus de souplesse des solutions variées aux problèmes et est davantage motivée à participer ». L’ouverture d’esprit que procure le bilinguisme est donc reflétée dans toute la société, ce qui peut se traduire, au niveau politique, par une plus grande stabilité. Économiquement parlant, le bilinguisme est aussi avantageux. En mai 1995, à Ottawa, un colloque intitulé Langues officielles et économie : nouvelles perspectives canadiennes réunissait des représentants du secteur privé, de la fonction publique et des chercheurs universitaires. Les participants ne manquaient pas de mots pour qualifier l’apport du bilinguisme à l’économie canadienne; « atout », « investissement », « dynamique économique », « facteur de commercialisation », « favorable au secteur industriel », etc. En étant plus flexible et ouvert sur une plus grande diversité linguistique, le bilinguisme permet plus d’innovation et d’expérimentation.

Finalement, le bilinguisme est un net avantage pour le marché de l’emploi. Ces avantages, remarque Joanna Campion, Directrice générale de l’organisme Le français pour l’avenir, qui promeut la dualité linguistique au Canada, sont énormes : « regardez la quantité de situations quotidiennes où le bilinguisme est requis : dans les transport, au restaurant, dans la communication, la publicité ». Les produits et services doivent être offerts dans les deux langues, ce qui nécessite bien souvent des travailleurs capables de maîtriser les deux langues. « Les employés bilingues sont très en demande », note-t-elle, « et dans plusieurs emplois, vous êtes limités si vous ne parlez qu’une langue. » À une époque où la planète est connectée par Internet et une économie globalisée, on peut difficilement en douter.

Selon un sondage mené auprès des entreprises par le Pr. Chorney, les employés bilingues sont perçus comme étant plus sociables et plus persévérants (apprendre une autre langue n’est pas une mince affaire !). Les recruteurs vont souvent voir dans le bilinguisme le signe d’une expérience culturelle et d’une éducation plus diversifiées. La perception de l’employé bilingue se traduit aussi en avantages directs : à compétences égales, les entreprises vont favoriser un employé bilingue. Comme le disait un employeur interviewé par M. Chorney, « dans un monde en évolution rapide, un employé bilingue est beaucoup plus flexible et donc beaucoup plus utile à l’entreprise grâce à sa capacité d’adaptation. »

Près du tiers des responsables du recrutement contactés par en 2006 ont affirmé mettre l’emphase sur l’embauche de candidats bilingues. De même, une étude de Patrimoine Canada concluait que les bilingues peuvent pénétrer le marché de l’emploi et changer d’emploi plus facilement que les unilingues. Il n’est pas surprenant que le taux de chômage soit moins élevé parmi la population bilingue. Alex Armstrong, candidat au doctorat de l’Université Queen’s et dont les recherches portent sur le marché du travail et les politiques publiques, s’est penché sur les avantages économiques du bilinguisme sur le marché de l’emploi canadien. Il en conclut que « les travailleurs bilingues au Canada jouissent d’un avantage salarial significatif par rapport aux travailleurs qui ne parlent que l’anglais ou le français. La différence de salaire est plus apparente chez les travailleurs au Québec, les employés du secteur public et les femmes. » Le bilinguisme, poursuit-il, « est une forme de capital humain qui a valeur innée dans le marché du travail et, de la sorte, signale aux employeurs qu’un individu a le désir et la capacité d’apprendre. » Et les nouveaux arrivants en bénéficient : les études d’Alice et Emi Nakamura, de l’Université de l’Alberta, indiquent que les immigrants qui maîtrisent l’anglais et le français auront plus de chances de se trouver un emploi et de gagner de meilleurs salaires.

De l’individu à la société, de la politique à l’économie, le bilinguisme canadien favorise donc le dialogue et l’intégration. Comme le veut un proverbe d’Europe centrale : « autant de langues vous parlez, autant de fois vous êtes un être humain. »


Canadian Bilingualism: pourquoi c’est important (by Benoit Hardy-Vallée)

More than a hundred languages are spoken in Canada. But since the land north of the 49th parallel was established mostly by English and French settlers, these two ethnic groups are still the two main linguistic groups. Not only do many Canadians speak English, French or both languages – but bilingualism is an official government policy that is supervised by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and protected by the Constitution.

English and French account today, according to Statistics Canada, for 59 percent and 23 percent of Canadians’ mother tongues. 18 percent of the population, nearly 5.2 million people – define themselves as bilingual. Most of those live in the “bilingual belt”, i.e., the region that covers northern New Brunswick, southern Quebec, north-eastern Ontario and southern Manitoba. Among Canadian provinces, Quebec has the highest rate of bilingualism – 41 percent and this figure is constantly growing. New Brunswick follows closely with 34 percent.

Bilingualism is an integral part of the Canadian state. A study conducted for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages supports this view, “seven out of ten Canadians think that living in a country with two official languages is one of the things that really defines what it means to be Canadian”.

However – and this information is important for newcomers – living in a bilingual country does not mean that all Canadians must speak both French and English. As noted by Professor Monica Heller of the University of Toronto, a specialist in bilingualism issues in Canada, “Canadian policy encourages people to learn another language in a spirit of mutual understanding, but there is nothing in the policy that requires them to do so (unless you want a job in the Public Service).” Canadian schoolchildren do not necessarily understand both languages, but have the opportunity to learn a second one: thus 50 percent of English-speaking students and 60 percent of French students learn a second language.

Why be bilingual?

A bilingual country, population or even culture (the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop is probably the best example of a bilingual cultural production) is an asset for individuals and for society. Research in psychology shows that bilingualism or learning a second language enhances reasoning and problem-solving abilities (this is also true of immigrants who learn English or French as a second language). Canadian bilingual children also demonstrate a better understanding of cultural differences and a greater ability to communicate. By being bilingual, one becomes more open, more flexible. Harold Chorney from Concordia University, wrote in 1998, that our society “is more open to critical understanding, more supple in its appreciation of different ways of problem solving and more stimulated to becoming involved.” The openness that bilingualism provides is therefore reflected throughout society, which can lead, at the political level, to a greater stability.

Economically speaking, bilingualism is also an asset. In May 1995, in Ottawa, a symposium entitled New Canadian Perspectives: Official Languages and the Economy brought together representatives of the private sector, government officials and university researchers. The contribution of bilingualism to the Canadian economy was referred to as an “asset”, “investment”, “economic dynamism”, “marketing factor”, something “favourable to industry”.

Bilingualism and the labour market

Recruiters often see bilingualism as a sign of experience and education. Moreover, when two employees have equal skills, companies are more likely to promote a bilingual employee. According to a survey undertaken by Professor Chorney, bilingual employees are perceived as more sociable and more persevering (learning another language is no mean feat). As one employer interviewed by Chorney said, “having bilingual skills in a rapidly changing world made the employee much more flexible and more valuable to the company in their capacity to adapt.” Nearly a third of all the hiring managers contacted by in 2006 claimed that they will recruit more bilingual employees. Similarly, a study by Canadian Heritage concluded that bilinguals can find a job and change jobs more easily than unilinguals.

While all these things are also true of allophones (people whose first language is neither English nor French), the Canadian system favours those fluent in the official languages.

It is not surprising that the unemployment rate is lower among the bilingual population. Alex Armstrong, a Ph.D. candidate at Queen’s University whose research involves labour market and public policy issues, investigated the economic advantages of bilingualism in the Canadian job market. He concluded, “bilingual workers in Canada enjoy a significant earnings advantage over workers who speak only English or French. The wage differential is most apparent among workers in Quebec, public sector employees and women. Bilingualism is a form of human capital that has innate value in the labour market and, as well, serves as a signal to employers that an individual has the desire and capacity to learn.” And newcomers also benefit from being bilingual: Alice and Emi Nakamura from the University of Alberta showed that immigrants who master English and French will have more chances of finding a job and earn better wages.

Bilingualism is good for individuals and good for society. It benefits us politically, socially and economically. As a proverb in central Europe says, “the more languages you speak the more times you are a human being.”






O funcionamento do cérebro bilíngüe

cérebroUm novo estudo realizado na Universidade de Haifa mostrou como o primeiro e o segundo idiomas são representadas no cérebro de uma pessoa bilíngue.Um único caso estudado foi testado pelo Dr. Raphig Ibrahim do Departamento de Inaptidão de Aprendizagem, e publicado no jornal Behavioral and Brain Functions, mostra como a primeira e segunda línguas são representadas em diferentes lugares do cérebro.

A questão de quão diferentes os idiomas são representados no cérebro humano ainda é incerto e, além disso, não é certo como idiomas de diferentes e de estruturas lingüísticas similares são representadas. Vários estudos têm encontrado evidências que todas as línguas que adquirimos no curso de nossas vidas são representadas em uma área do cérebro. De qualquer modo, outros estudos encontraram evidências que o segundo idioma é dissociada da representação da língua mãe.

De acordo com Dr. Ibrahim, existem várias maneiras de esclarecer essa questão, mas a melhor é examinar a representação dos dois idiomas no cérebro por meio de avaliação dos efeitos do dano cerebral na língua mãe e no segundo idioma do indivíduo bilíngue. “O exame desses casos é muito significativo, como é raro encontrarmos pessoas que são fluentes em dois idiomas e tenha dano cerebral pronlogado, sendo seletivamente afetado por um dos idiomas. Ademais, a maioria da evidência neste campo é derivada de observações clínicas do dano cerebral em inglês – e dos pacientes Índio-Europeus. Poucos estudos foram realizados nos indivíduos que falam outros idiomas, especialmente o idioma semita tais como hebreu e árabe, até o presente momento do estudo”, acrescenta.

No caso atual foi examinado um paciente bilíngüe de 41 anos de idade em que sua língua mãe é árabe, tendo fluência no hebreu como segunda língua. O indivíduo é bacharel que passou em exames de admissão em hebreu e usava a língua com freqüência em sua vida profissional. Ele sofreu um dano cerebral que foi expressado em uma desordem nos idiomas (afasia) que permaneceu depois de completar o curso de reabilitação. Durante a reabilitação, uma alto grau de melhora no uso da língua árabe foi notado, e menos no uso do hebreu. Depois, as habilidades de idiomas do paciente foram colocadas em testes padrões que examinaram o alcance de níveis nas habilidades dos dois idiomas, ao lado de outros testes cognitivos. Grande parte dos testes revelou que o dano no conhecimento do hebreu foi significativamente mais severo que a perda da habilidade do árabe.

Segundo Dr. Ibrahim, mesmo com esse defeito seletivo as capacidades linguísticas do paciente não constitui evidências suficientes para desenvolver um modelo estrutural para representar os idiomas no cérebro, neste caso constitui um importante passo nessa direção, particularmente considerando que procede com idiomas únicos que ainda não foram estudados e são foneticamente, morfologicamente e sintaticamente similares.


Idosos bilíngues têm cérebro mais “eficiente”

Idosos que falam duas línguas desde a infância têm mais facilidade em alternar de uma tarefa cognitiva para outra do que pessoas da mesma faixa etária que falam apenas um idioma. Essa é a conclusão de um estudo publicado nessa quarta-feira no periódico The Journal of Neuroscience. A pesquisa também mostra que os indivíduos bilíngues apresentam padrões de atividade cerebral diferentes de seus pares monolíngues ao alternar as atividades.

Conforme uma pessoa envelhece, a flexibilidade cognitiva, ou seja, habilidade de se adaptar a circunstâncias inesperadas, se torna mais restrita. Estudos recentes sugerem que falar duas línguas ao longo da vida pode reduzir essa perda, devido ao fato do indivíduo alternar o idioma falado com frequência.

Pesquisa — Para estudar como a habilidade de falar mais de uma língua desde a infância afeta o funcionamento neural, pesquisadores da Universidade de Kentucky, nos Estados Unidos, monitoraram a atividade cerebral de 110 participantes por meio de ressonância magnética funcional (procedimento que detecta atividade cerebral associada a mudanças no fluxo sanguíneo) durante a realização de um teste cognitivo.

A atividade consistia em descrever a cor ou a forma de figuras, que podiam ser círculos ou quadrados, azuis ou vermelhos, conforme era solicitado. O mesmo teste foi aplicado a dois grupos distintos. O primeiro, composto por 30 idosos (de 60 a 68 anos), sendo 15 bilíngues e 15 monolíngues e o segundo, por 20 adultos monolíngues, 20 adultos bilíngues, 20 idosos bilíngues e 20 idosos monolíngues.

Para a realização desse estudo, o termo ‘bilíngue’ correspondeu a uma pessoa que fala inglês e outro idioma diariamente, desde os dez anos de idade ou menos.


Crianças bilingues têm mais capacidade para multitarefas

As crianças bilingues são mais capazes de realizar diversas atividades ao mesmo tempo do que as que falam apenas um idioma, mas demoram mais para adquirir vocabulário, segundo um estudo canadense publicado nesta terça-feira na revista Child Development.

Os psicólogos Raluca Barac e Ellen Bialystok, professores na Universidade de York em Toronto, realizaram um teste com 104 crianças anglófonas de seis anos e compararam aos resultados de crianças da mesma idade que falavam, além de inglês, chinês, francês ou espanhol, segundo o estudo.

Em um teste de atenção, organização e planejamento, as crianças deveriam apertar uma tecla de um computador enquanto passavam imagens de animais ou cores.

Todas as crianças responderam com a mesma velocidade quando as respostas se limitavam a animais ou cores, mas quando deviam passar de animais a cores unicamente e pressionar um botão diferente, os bilingues foram mais rápidos em realizar a mudança.

“Os bilingues têm em sua mente dois jogos de regras linguísticas e seu cérebro aparentemente sabe como ir e vir entre elas, dependendo das circunstâncias”, afirmou Peggy McCardle, responsável pela unidade de desenvolvimento e comportamento da criança do Instituto americano para a Saúde Infantil e Desenvolvimento Humano (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), que comandou o estudo.

No entanto, o estudo destacou que as crianças unicamente anglófonas foram mais eficientes no teste de vocabulário e gramática.


Ser bilingue melhora capacidades cerebrais

“Bilingues são malabaristas naturais”, refere Viorica Marian, co-autora da investigação da universidade norte-americana de Northwestern, “conseguem manipular melhor os sons que recebem e, tudo indica, automaticamente prestar mais atenção aos relevantes em detrimentos dos restantes. Em vez de suscitar a confusão linguística, o bilinguismo melhora um ‘controle inibidor’, ou a capacidade para seleccionar os sons relevantes do discurso e ignorar os outros”.

Divulgado na ” Proceedings of the National Academy os Sciencies “, o estudo levado a cabo com 48 estudantes – 25 apenas falantes de inglês, 23 falantes de inglês e espanhol – conseguiu obter pela primeira vez dados biológicos que mostram que o bilinguismo melhora o funcionamento do cérebro e o modo o sistema nervoso reage aos sons.

Através de eléctrodos foram registados os padrões das ondas cerebrais dos estudantes. Ao escutarem discursos gravados sem ruídos de fundo, ambos os grupos reagiram de forma similar. No caso de gravações em que as vozes surgiam entre outros sons, os cérebros dos estudantes bilíngues foram muito mais eficazes a focar a sua atenção e análise apenas nos discursos.

Capacidades semelhantes às dos músicos

“O bilinguismo enriquece o cérebro e tem consequências reais no seu modo de funcionamento, especificamente na atenção e memória funcional”, afirma Nina Kraus, que conduziu a investigação.

Os dados biológicos recolhidos mostram a enorme plasticidade neurológica ligada à relação entre as funções sensoriais e cognitivas. As capacidades potenciadas pelo bilinguismo são semelhantes às que ocorrem com os músicos.

Futuramente, as duas investigadoras vão tentar perceber se esses efeitos ocorrem também quando se aprende uma segunda língua numa fase tardia da vida.



Il cervello bilingue

cervelloFunziona meglio il cervello poliglotta

La mamma di Eva è italiana, il papà americano. Eva ha meno di 4 anni, ma già capisce e parla entrambe le lingue dei genitori, anche se ogni tanto fa un po’ di confusione. Eva è di sicuro più fortunata di chi imparerà una seconda lingua sui libri e, stando a una ricerca pubblicata sui Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, il bilinguismo ha altri aspetti positivi: il cervello poliglotta, infatti, “funziona” meglio di quello di chi in tenerissima età impara una sola lingua. Agnes Kovacs e Jacques Mehler, ricercatori del Laboratorio del linguaggio, cognitività e sviluppo della Scuola internazionale superiore di studi avanzati di Trieste, lo hanno dimostrato con una serie di esperimenti su un gruppo di piccoli triestini di appena 7 mesi: alcuni vivono in un ambiente monolingue; in casa di altri si parla l’ italiano e lo sloveno. Così piccoli, già bilingui? «Un neonato di 3 giorni reagisce in modo diverso di fronte a lingue con una ritmica molto dissimile come il francese e il russo; dopo i 4 mesi sa distinguere lingue simili come il francese e l’ italiano – spiega Jacques Mehler -. Abbiamo scelto bambini di 7 mesi perché su di loro gli effetti del bilinguismo non dipendono dal saper parlare due lingue, ma solo dall’ essere stati esposti a più di un idioma». Ebbene, già prima di un anno un bimbo “destinato” a diventare bilingue ha un apprendimento più veloce rispetto a un monolingue, come se il suo cervello fosse più allenato. «I genitori – osserva Mehler – temono spesso che presentare ai figli più di una lingua possa confonderli: i dati dimostrano invece che questo è un vantaggio». «I bambini bilingui non sono più intelligenti, ma focalizzano meglio l’ attenzione sui dettagli importanti, soprattutto in situazioni che richiedono concentrazione e decisione immediata – spiega Antonella Sorace, che ha creato un servizio europeo di informazione sul bilinguismo ( e insegna Sviluppo del linguaggio all’ Università di Edimburgo, in Scozia -. In genere i piccoli poliglotti imparano a leggere prima e apprendono altre lingue più facilmente; inoltre capiscono meglio che gli altri possono avere un punto di vista diverso dal loro. Alcuni dati preliminari indicano perfino che da anziani i bilingui sono più protetti dal declino cognitivo». Ma è un “vero” bilingue solo chi ascolta due lingue fin dalla culla? «Non c’ è un’ età precisa dell’ infanzia oltre la quale non s’ impara più alla perfezione un’ altra lingua, ma esiste una “finestra di opportunità” con la massima potenzialità linguistica – dice Mehler -. Con test specifici riusciamo sempre a distinguere chi è bilingue dalla nascita da chi ha appreso una seconda lingua in età scolare, ma a livello pratico entrambi possono padroneggiarla allo stesso modo. All’ aumentare dell’ età cala però la facilità di apprendimento e dopo i 18 anni è impossibile imparare perfettamente e senza inflessioni un’ altra lingua». Non è detto però che non ci siano benefici anche nel bilinguismo “adulto”. “Stiamo studiando per capire se alcuni vantaggi cognitivi del bilinguismo si ottengano anche imparando una seconda lingua da adulti, quando quasi certamente sono coinvolti meccanismi cognitivi diversi da quelli usati dai bambini» conclude Sorace. Elena Meli * * * Seconda lingua Non basta la scuola straniera I vantaggi del bilinguismo sono allettanti. E se i genitori parlano solo italiano? Secondo Mehler: «A 6 anni, a scuola, con 3 ore di lingua straniera alla settimana, non s’ impara molto; le stesse ore con una babysitter straniera sono più utili. Può servire la scuola materna bilingue, dove si è esposti a un’ altra lingua in età precoce e nell’ interazione sociale». «Libri, giochi, video servono, ma per imparare una lingua contano di più le situazioni che diano la motivazione ad usarla» conferma Sorace.


Il cervello è più reattivo

ABILI giocolieri, capaci di destreggiarsi fra stimoli diversi scremando senza fatica, in automatico, informazioni rilevanti rispetto al rumore di fondo. Il cervello di chi cresce bilingue ha una marcia in più. Sono diversi gli studi che negli ultimi anni hanno portato prove dei vantaggi che regala apprendere due o più lingue fin da molto piccoli.

L’ultimo, pubblicato sui Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (Pnas), viene dalla Northwestern University in Illinois: la ricchezza dell’esperienza linguistica dei bilingui ne affina il sistema uditivo e ne migliora l’attenzione e la memoria di lavoro, una sorta di sostegno cognitivo che ci aiuta a svolgere più compiti contemporaneamente.

Viorica Marian ha studiato insieme alla neuroscienziata Nina Kraus le conseguenze del bilinguismo sul cervello, in particolare nelle aree uditive sottocorticali, che ricevono diversi stimoli dalle aree cognitive. Era già noto come lo studio della musica, un arricchimento sensoriale, migliorasse l’elaborazione del suono.

Ora Marian e Kraus, insieme ad altri colleghi, si sono chieste se l’esperienza di parlare più lingue potesse portare a modificazioni nella codifica del suono in aree evolutivamente antiche del cervello, come il tronco cerebrale. E la risposta è stata positiva, fornendo così una prova biologica dell’impatto di questa abilità acquisita sul cervello.

In pratica, nei bilingui cambia il modo in cui il cervello risponde ai suoni. “Si fanno puzzle e parole crociate per mantenere la mente lucida”, ha spiegato la dottoressa Marian, del laboratorio di bilinguismo e psicolinguistica a scienza della comunicazione della Northwestern University. “Ma i vantaggi che abbiamo osservato in chi parla due lingue vengono in automatico, semplicemente per il fatto di conoscere e usare due idiomi”, sottolinea la studiosa. Benefici particolarmente estesi e rilevanti, che riguardano anche la capacità di attenzione, aggiunge Nina Kraus.

Lo studio è stato condotto su adolescenti bilingui, che parlavano inglese e spagnolo, e monolingui, solo inglese, sottoposti ad una serie di test in cui ascoltavano una sillaba, “da”, in condizioni diverse. In una situazione di ascolto non disturbata, le risposte neurali a suoni complessi sono risultate simili per entrambi i gruppi. Ma in presenza di rumori di fondo, il cervello dei bilingui è riuscito a distinguere caratteristiche del suono “sottili”, come la frequenza fondamentale, molto meglio rispetto ai monolingui. Parallelamente, i risultati sono stati migliori anche in compiti che richiedevano attenzione prolungata.

“Nei bilingui l’attenzione si affina grazie all’esperienza e il loro sistema uditivo diventa più efficiente nell’elaborazione automatica dei suoni”, commenta Andrea Marini, docente di Psicologia del linguaggio e della comunicazione all’Università di Udine “e la cosa interessante è che tutto avviene in modo implicito, senza alcuno sforzo”. Una palestra preziosa per il cervello, che rende migliori i risultati anche in compiti che richiedono attenzione sostenuta, non solo uditivi ma anche di tipo visivo.

In sostanza, chi è esposto a più di una lingua si trova fin da subito in una situazione di maggiore difficoltà. “Deve riconoscere fin da piccolo suoni e frequenze diverse, fa più fatica ma affina diverse qualità rispetto a chi non viene messo di fronte a questa prova, come i monolingui”, spiega ancora il professore. Con vantaggi importanti anche rispetto al decadimento delle facoltà cognitive, “come ha dimostrato uno studio canadese del 2010″, ricorda Marini, in cui si evidenziava che il bilinguismo quotidiano, non saltuario, può ritardare la comparsa dei sintomi dell’Alzheimer anche di cinque anni nelle persone anziane”. Risultato non raggiunto da alcun farmaco esistente.




El cerebro bilingüe

cerebroEl asunto de cómo se representan en el cerebro humano los diferentes lenguajes aún permanece sin aclarar y, lo que es más, todavía se desconoce si en esa representación influye el que el segundo idioma sea similar o muy distinto en estructura al primero. En muchos estudios se han encontrado evidencias de que todos los lenguajes que adquirimos en el curso de nuestra vida son representados en un área del cerebro. Sin embargo, otros estudios han encontrado evidencias de que la representación de la lengua materna está disociada de la del segundo lenguaje, adquirido posteriormente.

Hay varias formas de clarificar esta cuestión, pero la mejor manera de examinar las representaciones en el cerebro de dos lenguajes es estudiar los efectos de lesiones cerebrales sobre la lengua materna y sobre el segundo lenguaje de una persona bilingüe. El estudio de tales casos es muy importante, ya que es raro encontrar personas que hablen fluidamente dos lenguajes diferentes, y que hayan sufrido un daño permanente que haya afectado de manera selectiva a uno de los dos idiomas. Además, la mayoría de las evidencias en este campo derivan de las observaciones clínicas de lesiones cerebrales en pacientes que hablan el inglés y alguna de las lenguas indoeuropeas, y pocos estudios se han realizado en individuos que hablan otros idiomas, especialmente lenguas semíticas como el hebreo y el árabe, antes de este nuevo estudio.

Raphiq Ibrahim, del Departamento de Discapacidades del Aprendizaje, ha concluido su estudio sobre un paciente bilingüe de 41 años cuya lengua materna es el árabe, y que tenía un buen dominio del hebreo como segunda lengua, con un nivel de calidad muy cercano al de su lengua materna. El individuo cuenta con titulación universitaria y usaba el hebreo frecuentemente en su vida profesional.

El sujeto sufrió una lesión cerebral que le provocó un trastorno del lenguaje que persistió después de completar el programa de rehabilitación. Durante la rehabilitación, se registró un elevado nivel de recuperación en el empleo del lenguaje árabe, y menor para el uso del hebreo. Después de la rehabilitación, las habilidades lingüísticas del paciente fueron comprobadas a través de varias pruebas estandarizadas con las que se examinaron diversos niveles de habilidades lingüísticas en ambos idiomas, junto con otras pruebas cognitivas. La mayoría de estos tests revelaron que la merma en las habilidades del paciente con el idioma hebreo fue significativamente mayor que la sufrida por sus habilidades lingüísticas arábicas.

Según Ibrahim, incluso si esta merma selectiva de habilidad lingüística no se considera evidencia suficiente para desarrollar un modelo estructural con el que representar los lenguajes en el cerebro, sí constituye al menos un paso importante en esta dirección, sobre todo considerando que afecta a lenguajes que no habían sido estudiados con anterioridad en el cerebro, y que son similares fonética, morfológica y sintácticamente.

Flexibilidad cognitiva

“Las personas bilingües utilizan más áreas cerebrales en una tarea lingüística, sobre todo del lado izquierdo del cerebro (el relacionado con el lenguaje) y de algunas del derecho. Es un procesamiento menos eficiente pero no menos eficaz, es decir, lo hacen igual de bien que los monolingües pero para ello necesitan emplear más áreas de su cerebro. Esto podría significar algún tipo de pequeñísimo enlentecimiento a la hora de manejar el lenguaje. Pero la parte positiva es que los bilingües tempranos al pasarse todo el día cambiando de lenguaje, tienen entrenadas capacidades cognitivas no lingüísticas, en concreto en las funciones ejecutivas, que sirven para adaptarse a los cambios de tareas variadas. Se podría decir que en estas tareas son mejores. Nosotros aportamos la base visual de por qué son más eficaces y hemos visto que es porque utilizan otras áreas cerebrales distintas a los monolingües”, apunta Ávila.

Ellen Bialystok y Michelle Martin, dos expertas en bilingüismo, explican en un artículo, publicado 2004 en la revista ‘Developmental Science’, que “el bilingüismo precoz modifica y mejora en los niños el desarrollo del control de la atención mientras que tiene poco impacto en cómo se analizan las representaciones”. Pero, como recoge en otro trabajo publicado hace dos años en la revista de la ‘Asociación para la Ciencia Psicológica’, “las personas que hablan dos idiomas tienen menor competencia en el lenguaje formal”.

Como apunta Albert Costa, coordinador del grupo de Investigación en Producción del Habla y Bilingüismo, de la Universitat Pompeu Fabra, y también integrante del proyecto español, “son las dos caras de una moneda. A la hora de producir lenguas parece que los bilingües son más lentos y tienen con más frecuencia una mayor dificultad para encontrar la palabra deseada, es lo que se denomina tener la palabra en la punta de la lengua. Además, poseen un menor vocabulario, aunque cuando se tienen en cuenta las dos lenguas el número de palabras que conocen es superior en comparación con una persona monolingüe. Pero esto es algo lógico, es como quien juega sólo al tenis y el que juega al tenis y al pádel, el primero será mejor en tenis pero el segundo sabrá manejarse en los dos juegos”, explica.

Las divergencias en la flexibilidad cognitiva no son “diferencias brutales, si no todo el mundo estaría dominado por los bilingües. En cuanto al manejo del lenguaje, esa mayor lentitud a la hora de encontrar la palabra correcta es de milésimas de segundo, mientras la persona habla no se nota que tiene otras lenguas tocándole las narices y que su cerebro tiene que estar eligiendo constantemente el idioma con el que tiene que hablar”, señala Sebastián-Gallés.

El aprendizaje de una segunda lengua

Además de llegar a entender los beneficios que genera el bilingüismo en la función ejecutiva, otra rama de estudio del proyecto BRAINGLOT es conocer por qué cuesta tanto aprender un segundo idioma pasada una edad. “Nuestra tarea es investigar, qué cosas que son distintas de una lengua a otra son las que van a ser más fáciles de aprender y cuáles más difíciles”, explica Itziar Laka, profesora de lingüística de la Universidad del País Vasco e investigadora principal Elebilab, grupo que forma parte del proyecto.

Esta experta analiza las señales cerebrales de las personas cuando escuchan en un idioma algo mal (cuando se produce una violación sintáctica) y su manera en que el cerebro codifica eso. “Hay una cosa que la gente no se da cuenta: Se cree que el lenguaje es algo cultural pero no es así, es una función cognitiva. Si la segunda lengua es muy distinta, el patrón cerebral será diferente en una persona bilingüe que en una nativa. Pero también estudiamos qué aspectos de la lengua están representados de la misma manera en el cerebro de los dos”, aclara.

Laka insiste en que la información que se consigue estudiando el cerebro de una persona que habla dos idiomas es mucho más rica que la que se logra analizando el de alguien nativo. “Todo el retrato completo nos hace comprender mejor la naturaleza del lenguaje”, afirma. Esta especialista evalúa a personas de unos veintitantos años que aprendieron euskera con cuatro o cinco años. “Pensábamos que no íbamos a encontrar diferencias entre ellos y los nativos, pero no ha sido así. A los cuatro años, la primera lengua ya ha ocupado un espacio prioritario en el cerebro, y la segunda tiene que luchar por su espacio”.

Pero también se sabe que como se realiza menos esfuerzo con el primer idioma, el tejido cerebral implicado en su uso es menor. De hecho, varios estudios muestran que existen diferencias en la densidad de materia blanca entre las personas bilingües y las que sólo hablan un idioma. “A mayor mielina mayor rapidez de procesamiento. Los cambios no sólo son funcionales sino estructurales. Lo importante es determinar que un aprendizaje externo conforma una morfología cerebral”, señala Costa.

El grupo vasco también analiza el efecto que tiene la ergatividad, es decir, “el euskera como las lenguas mayas, el georgiano o el tibetano, es una lengua ergativa y tiene una manera de marcar los sujetos y los objetos distinta a la de las lenguas nominativas como son todas las latinas. Esto se ha considerado una división psicológica. También miramos aspectos como la concordancia verbal que en castellano sólo es con el sujeto, mientras que en euskera es con el sujeto, el objeto y el dativo. Y ahí vemos que cuando tienes concordancia en tu lengua nativa, puedes usar ese recurso para la segunda lengua”.

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