LLAS News Blog

News articles of interest to higher education LLAS subject fields.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Language Cafés

Recently, LLAS team has been reviewing models of informal language learning or ‘language cafes’. A few years ago LLAS led the EU funded Language Café project to set up language cafes across the UK and Europe (www.languagecafe.eu). The model of the language café caught the attention of a company in Athens who are leading an EU project to set up informal language learning opportunities for immigrants (http://www.llas.ac.uk/projects/METIKOS).

What did we discover? Firstly, that in the UK, there is a real appetite for conversing in another language in an informal setting. Participants in the cafes that we visited in Southampton welcomed the friendly and supportive environment where they could meet new people and test out their conversation skills in another language and all for the cost of a cup of coffee!

Secondly that a number of cafes have run for a few years , the success being partly due to the efforts of the facilitator but also as a result of group members sharing responsibility for welcoming new people, steering the discussion and organising additional events.

Thirdly, that there are a number of models of ‘language café’ out there. In Edinburgh, Yakety Yak (www.yaketyyak-languagecafe.co.uk/ )has been set up as a business venture ; a number of cafes are organised where the presence of an experienced tutor is guaranteed and where participants pay for an hour’s conversation. And the Culture Box Language Café (culturebox.org.uk/activities/language-cafe-2/ ) runs every Saturday afternoon in Nottingham City Library. Participants are invited to say what language they want to learn and what language they can offer. And at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, a foreign language film is shown followed by a discussion about the film in the target language (www.tynesidecinema.co.uk/learn/adults) .

Fourthly that, unsurprisingly, the appetite for language cafes also exists in Europe. We looked into the ‘café scene’ in France and Italy where there were a number of cafes in the major cities, some offering a number of languages, others offering just one. The information about the café in Dunkirk conjures up the spirit of many of the cafes we reviewed: ‘each week in a friendly atmosphere you can participate in discussions in the foreign language of your choice sitting comfortably with a drink in your hand. Based on the principles of free expression and exchange, the language café allows each person to choose their own topics of discussion. No set theme or obligation to attend, each person organises his evening as he wishes, immersed in an intercultural and intergenerational environment.’

Liz Hudswell
Assistant Director, LLAS

Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
Full article in New York Times

Friday, 23 March 2012

In pictures: Russian Empire in colour photos

 Stunning colour photographs taken during the period of the Russian Empire are on the BBC website.

BBC website

All children should learn foreign languages, say peers

All children should learn a foreign language at primary and secondary school, a House of Lords committee has said.
The UK's attitude to languages has prevented its students from studying in Europe, according to the House of Lords' EU committee.
It says the UK has been popular with EU students keen to improve their English, but it is now facing competition.
Education Secretary Michael Gove also favours language learning from five.

BBC news

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Will one researcher's discovery deep in the Amazon destroy the foundation of modern linguistics?

A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In a plot twist, instead of converting them he loses his faith, morphing from an evangelist trying to translate the Bible into an academic determined to understand the people he's come to respect and love.

Along the way, the former missionary discovers that the language these people speak doesn't follow one of the fundamental tenets of linguistics, a finding that would seem to turn the field on its head, undermine basic assumptions about how children learn to communicate, and dethrone the discipline's long-reigning king, who also happens to be among the most well-known and influential intellectuals of the 20th century

Chronicle of Higher Education 

Monday, 19 March 2012

Security guard with 49 languages wins helpfulness award

 John Bowman, of Leaver Road, Henley, says he is able to greet people in 49 languages and is “working on a few more”.

He said: “I’m a walking phrase book. I don’t consider myself clever — I don’t even know my own mobile phone number — I just have a knack for it.”

Mr Bowman, 61, who works for Securitas at Maidenhead business communications company Avaya, has already won the firm’s regional award for the most helpful guard.

Henley Standard

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel Everett – review: The bitter arguments about a language instinct

Native speakers of Pirahã, in the Amazon lowland jungle, have no words for left or right, they use the same term for blue and green, and their definitions of red, black and white turn out to be similes, rather than dedicated words. 
These once-isolated people, a tiny group, have no system of numbers; their sentences cannot accommodate subordinate clauses or other forms of recursion (embedding phrases),  not least because it is a story composed by someone they do not know, about someone they have never heard of, in a time and place that has no meaning for them. 
Full article in the Guardian 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Specialist language teachers 'urgently required'

England's teacher training agency is urgently recruiting modern foreign language teachers to cope with a surge demand for the subject at GCSE.

The number of pupils set to sit language GCSEs next year has increased by 22% to 52%, it said.
The rise is thought to be tied to the English Baccalaureate, which requires GCSEs in language among other subjects.

BBC news

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Why ex-Harvard head Larry Summers is wrong to say students don't need foreign languages

Larry Summers Is Wrong About Languages
March 6, 2012 - 3:00am
Soon after 9/11, Mike Wallace, then still the most hard-hitting reporter for “60 Minutes,” sat down with several of the heads of the intelligence community to discuss how the worst terrorist attack in United States history could have happened. At the end of the interview, he asked each of the five or six section heads: “So, tell me, how’s your Arabic?”
Not surprisingly, not one of the section heads spoke Arabic although several had some Russian and one offered that he knew some Vietnamese. The story is worth remembering not because of the embarrassment it caused the interviewed section heads but because their helplessness was the result of a similarly misguided policy of linguistic ignorance as the one advocated by Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University and former secretary of the Treasury.

Friday, 2 March 2012

International landscape for language and culture

The international landscape for languages, linguistics and area studies is changing rapidly. Globalisation is accelerating, but is increasingly counterbalanced by local and regional particularisms. Mobility and trade, together with technological advances, have increased the diversity of languages and cultures in contact in every country and city in the world. But they are also powering the emergence of wide ranging lingua francas, of which English is particularly dominant in business, science and entertainment.

At the same time, the gap is widening between monolingual and multilingual citizens. Those who are fluent and literate in two or more languages can benefit from most of the professional and personal opportunities the world can offer. But those who speak only their mother tongue are limited in their opportunities, especially if they are among the 25% of EU citizens who are not literate in any language.

These contradictions are being sharpened by an economic crisis that is widening social cleavages. As a result, linguistic and cultural differences are increasingly being transformed into political antagonisms. This poses very real challenges to our disciplinary areas. Although they are at the ‘soft’ end of the field of knowledge, language and culture are deeply rooted. We understand that they are often intractable and highly resistant to change, but that they can also be the motor of seismic shifts in economics, politics and society.

We are accustomed to mobilising the expertise we have in teaching and research in language and culture, and directing it towards educating our students who will be the future leaders. However, the time scales of change are ever shorter, and the public needs are ever greater. As a result, we must now face the challenge of bringing our knowledge and understanding to the wider community. LLAS is committed to assisting the academic community in this endeavour, and thereby making our contribution to creating a more humane world in which the values of linguistic and cultural enrichment for all can flourish.

Prof. Michael Kelly
Director of LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies