British Council seminar on language learning

Yesterday evening I watched a seminar from the British Council on language learning, which took place in Cardiff and was broadcast live on YouTube (video below). There were two talks, each followed by brief Q&As, and both are well worth watching if the topics interest you.

First, Miguel Angel Muñoz explored whether learning a foreign language makes you smarter – and if so, how. He reports on research into the cognitive benefits of bi- and multilingualism, and clears up some of the uncertainty in this area. Miguel wrote a post for the British Council blog which will give you an idea of the content of his talk.

Next, Michael Rundell of Macmillan Dictionary spoke about the difference between real rules and mere usage peeves, and how we should therefore teach grammar. For a flavour, see his excellent related post where, referring to Nevile Gwynne’s championing of pre-modern grammar books, he writes:

It is hard to imagine any other field of study in which a source is recommended precisely because it is out of date.

Here’s a slide from Michael’s presentation. The reference to “Heffer 2014” will be familiar to anyone who has read my recent posts at Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

michael rundell - british council seminars - language learning - using data vs claims

The video is 2½ hours long. If you want to skip around, introductions begin at 3:20, Miguel starts at 7:45, and there’s an interval from 1:02:45 to 1:13:18. Michael’s talk starts (after a technical hitch) at 1:16:15 and ends at 2:20:00, at which point there’s a few minutes of closing remarks.*

It’s almost like being there, except you have to make your own tea.


Other British Council seminars and videos are available here.

* Or there are, if you’re twitchy about it.

3 Responses to British Council seminar on language learning

  1. Roger says:

    Re whether one becomes smarter from learning a 2nd language: There`s a Science Daily brief on whether it wards off dementia. What used to be undecided was whether those learning a 2nd language had a prior disposition against dementia, which ought to mean no, it doesn`t mean smarter, just pre-disposed. Their latest item claims that it does. (3 days old: “Speaking two languages benefits the aging brain“). Dementia is one of their stock topics.

    Sci.Daily also has an item on speech & language disorders in teachers (Oct 2013). One study finds such disorders 3.5 times more likely to occur in teachers than in a group of Alzheimer`s patients.
    As well, SD have ongoing briefs about the effects of bilingualism
    on the brain and on various aspects of communication.

    Their single-page reports distil from all over, often with the gist compressed into a summary paragraph, or even telling it all nicely just in a headline, which is the skimmer`s delight in times of text overload.

  2. Al DeLuca says:

    I’m not sure if learning a foreign language makes you smarter or not, but I see evidence here that thinking too much on grammar impedes one’s ability to turn on a mic, operate AV equipment, or remember to pass out the flyers.

    But really, an excellent talk and finally I, a devout descriptivist, have some ammunition against my prescriptivist spouse. Thank you for that.

  3. Stan says:

    Roger: Science Daily is a convenient site for such news, a useful distillation as you say. I usually click through to the source to see if there’s more information there, and (if I have time) I check if the science bloggers I trust have covered a story of interest. Sometimes the framing of results is a little skewed.

    Al: Glad you enjoyed it. I wouldn’t read anything into the technical hitches (though you were probably being tongue-in-cheek). There’s no shortage of ammunition against prescriptivist arguments, but it all helps. I’ve addressed the subject repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, for instance in a post on why descriptivism vs. prescriptivism is a false dichotomy.

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