What is the second language you should learn & why is Chinese so hard?

Michael Skapinker at the Financial Times came up with an interesting question: what is the second most useful language? He directs that question to English speakers in particular since English the lingua franca of the world, they have a dilemna: what foreign language should they learn?

Now there is no obvious reply to that question but most would probably think Mandarin is the answer as China is the fastest growing economy, but there are obvious difficulties to that choice (bearing in mind that Mandarin isn’t the only language spoken in China). Here are a few considerations to keep in mind via American China expert David Moser’s essay “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard”.

  1. It depends what language you are coming from “A French person can usually learn Italian faster than an American, and an average American could probably master German a lot faster than an average Japanese, and so on.(…) A Spanish person learning Portuguese is comparable to a violinist taking up the viola, whereas an American learning Chinese is more like a rock guitarist trying to learn to play an elaborate 30-stop three-manual pipe organ. 
  2. Chinese is hard for Chinese too, the writing system in particular is very complex: it takes twice as long for Chinese children to acquire literacy as their European counterparts. (…)There is still the awe-inspiring fact that Chinese people manage to learn their own language very well. Perhaps they are like the gradeschool kids that Baroque performance groups recruit to sing Bach cantatas. The story goes that someone in the audience, amazed at hearing such youthful cherubs flawlessly singing Bach’s uncompromisingly difficult vocal music, asks the choir director, “But how are they able to perform such difficult music?””Shh — not so loud!” says the director, “If you don’t tell them it’s difficult, they never know.”
  3. Time required: An average American could probably become reasonably fluent in two Romance languages in the time it would take them to reach the same level in Chinese.

The bottom line is, if you only speak one language you should start consider studying a second one; context and and an affinity to the culture should then help determine your choice. The reason why Chinese is so hard to learn for a non-Asian person is because the Chinese and American culture have been isolated for so long, there aren’t many reference points, which makes it so worthwhile and yet so difficult. Another equivalent would be the Arabic language for many of the same reasons. So pick your challenges wisely. What language would you learn?

9-Yr-Old Asean Johnson Fires Up Protesters to Fight School Closures [via Color Lines]

“Nine-year-old Asean Johnson may need to stand up on a chair to be seen above the podium from which he speaks, but he holds in him a wisdom and fire well beyond his years. Watch him address the crowds that assembled Monday to protest Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school closures agenda, which will affect Garvey Elementary School, where Johnson is a student, and a proposed 53 other schools in the district.

Kids need safety. Rahm Emanuel is not caring about our schools. He’s not caring about our safety,” Johnson said at the rally. “He should be invested in these schools, not closing them. He should be supporting these schools, not closing him.”

Emanuel’s projected plan to shutter dozens of schools is ostensibly a bid to address a serious budget shortfall. And yet, teachers, parents and students in Chicago have come together to argue that shutting down schools is a wrong-headed move that overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects communities of color. (Asean Johnson’s addressed the racial inequity in Emanuel’s agenda too.)

Alas, despite months of protest, including multiple acts of civil disobedience and Johnson’s own passionate pleas, the Chicago Tribune reports that perhaps just five of the projected 54 schools may be saved. Via Color Lines” Video(s) after the break

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Bringing diversity to science: an ‘outrageous dream’?

Freeman Hrabowski gave this inspiring talk to TED Long Beach about diversity in science education. As the head of the University of Maryland for  20 years – the first university of Baltimore to be open to people of all color – Hrabowski’s been a big part of this “50 year experiment.” The university has been recognized as a leader in training minorities to become scientists.

First, he acknowledges how he was inspired by his memories of Martin Luther King’s Children Crusade in Birmingham at age twelve, learning that people can take “ownership of their education and be taught to ask questions”. He then remind us that it isn’t just minorities who don’t do well in science, it’s ALL AMERICANS. Here are his four takeaway points.

  1. Set high expectations for students (don’t focus on their deficiencies). It’s understanding that it’s hard work that makes the difference.
  2. Build a community around the students, get them to understand each other and give them a sense of responsibility. (Too often universities foster a heightened sense of competition which prevents students from learning how to work as a team).
  3. It takes researchers to produce researchers, and the faculty needs to be personally involved with the students.
  4. Today’s students are bored, they don’t just want to sit and listen to a professor. Courses need to be redesigned and students need to be engaged.

Watch the video after the break.

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Biculturals show greater creativity & professional success. Here’s why…

We just found this blog “Life as a Bilingual” on Psychology Today by Francois Grosjean, Professor of psycholinguistics at Neuchâtel University, in Switzerland. One of his latest posts breaks down the advantages of being bicultural in the workplace (which is different than from being bilingual), based on three different studies on MBA students in school in Europe and the United States.

They view things from these different perspectives and integrate them into a coherent whole. They also recombine different existing ideas to make novel connections between concepts.

The enhanced integrative complexity that biculturals show has implications for a number of tasks such as effective information search, greater tolerance for ambiguous information, less susceptibility to information overload, and so on.

The author ends his post by reassuring us that being bicultural is NOT the only way to “develop integrative complexity”.  There are a number of other ways, biculturalism is just one way. Nonoculturals and biculturals can still live happy together and get the best of both worlds!

Do you think your Husband could handle labor? Men in Labor [video]

Women are supposed to have a higher threshold to pain or at least a greater resistance to it (watch Mythbusters put that myth to the test)that they’ve exercised through million of years of childbearing. Whether this is true or not, a big part of fostering diversity is about understanding the other person’s point of view. This  experiment attempts to give men a better idea of what giving birth actually feels like, because let’s face it, how will they ever know ? Happy belated Mother’s Day. Hilarious video after the jump. Story via The Bump.

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College Diversity vs. Affirmative Action? California leads the debate

This article via the New York Times should be closely read by anyone who cares about issues of diversity and education. In 1996, California was one of the first states to abolish affirmative action in public universities. Instead the universities decided to widen out their reach to a bigger (more diverse) pool of students and embed themselves more within the local communities. Seven years later – after an initial drop of students from minority backgrounds – this initiative has proven successful. Here are a few stand out points from that article:

Those states have tried a series of new approaches to choosing students, giving applicants a leg up for overcoming disadvantages like poverty, language barriers, low-performing schools and troubled neighborhoods. That process has drawn heavy scrutiny, but in California, it is only half of a two-pronged approach. Disadvantaged students in poor neighborhoods, like Erick Ramirez, a senior at Anaheim High School, are benefiting from the state university systems’ growing efforts to cultivate applicants starting in middle school.

“If you’re serious about doing admissions based on disadvantage, it requires a lot of outreach,” Mr. Kahlenberg said. “It’s the right thing to do, but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap.”The University of California, Irvine, alone spends more than $7 million a year on that outreach, with a few hundred people working on it — mostly part time, and not always for pay — and reaching into dozens of poor neighborhoods in its region”

The universities are doing work that in more affluent communities is handled by parents and guidance counselors.(…) My high school counselor never said I should go to a four-year college,” Ms. Flores, 24, said. “When I expressed interest, they were surprised, and it was already too late because I didn’t have the right classes, so I started at community college. That’s what we want to avoid with these kids.”

 

 

USC: Is racism still alive?

This week we welcome new MMXLII guest correspondent Tarik Ross, Jr. A senior at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona majoring in Communication/Public Relations, Tarik gives us an overview of the unfolding controversy around recent alleged racial profiling on the USC campus. 

 

In the past few days, there has been a lot of talk about the University of Southern California (USC). The campus is located in the heart of Southern Los Angeles, often referred to as South Central, known for it’s heavy gang presence.  In recent years, the campus itself has experienced much turmoil: including unmerited deaths, various shootings and alleged racial tension.

 

USC students claim that they were racially profiled by LAPD in a recent incident to what they say was totally unnecessary. On Friday evening, there were several parties hosted by USC students to celebrate this year’s 2013 graduates. According to the report from the Huffington Post around 2 a.m. Saturday morning, 79 LAPD officers in riot gear shut down a party hosted by Nate Howard, a graduating communication student at the university. A total of six students were arrested and some were tased as police officers cleared out the party of about 400 guests, who were predominately African-American students. Another party across the street from the emptied house with about the same amount of students was not affected.

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