Why Adults Can Learn Languages More Easily Than Children

Speaking a second language is a great way to broaden your communication abilities. But many people assume that learning a second language is something they should have tackled as a child, that it becomes too difficult as they grow older. In actuality, children don't necessarily learn languages more easily than adults. Rather, there are certain parts of the language-learning process that are easier as children, while other parts are easier as adults.

When children are young, their brains are in the process of developing. They are malleable and spongelike, always changing and soaking up information. For this reason, learning a first or second language takes place without conscious thought. For children it's more like second nature. A study conducted by Dr. Paul Thompson at UCLA, for example, found that children use a part of their brains called the "deep motor area" to acquire new languages. This area of the brain is activated when you're walking, tying your shoe, or taking a sip of water; it controls unconscious actions. The fact that this same portion of the brain is employed by children when learning languages lead Thompson to conclude that language acquisition is a natural process, something that is second nature, something that a child doesn't have to actively think about. Adults, on the other hand, must think actively about learning a second language. For them it is not second nature, but an intellectual process. This is because an adult's brain has already formed--the circuitry and synapses have been wired to fit the parameters and pronunciations of their first language. Luckily, as an adult, you've already developed the capacity for intellectual learning.

Since adults are capable of grappling with language on an intellectual level, they are actually better suited for becoming proficient in a language more quickly than children. Often we think it's the other way around. We may, for example, observe a child saying a couple of phrases in two languages and conclude that he or she is bilingual. But David P. Ausubel, a linguist at the University of Illinois, points out that children have small vocabularies and use simple constructions to communicate their needs. Adults, on the other hand, communicate in much more complex ways and command very large vocabularies. This gives people the false assumption that children learn a language more quickly. In actuality, adults simply have more to learn to communicate on the same level that they communicate at in their first languages. Moreover, according to Ausubel, adults and adolescents are able to generalize and think in abstract terms. A child needs to hear a phrase time and time again to distinguish a recurring pattern. This type of discovery takes a lot of time and a lot of exposure. Adults can hear a phrase once and understand that that phrase can be universalized across the entire language. The same goes for grammatical patterns: an adult is more likely to realize that many of their first-language's patterns can be applied to the second language, whereas a child's brain has not developed the maturity to think in such abstractions and is therefore unable to make the same connections.

Aware of the differences in language-acquisition processes and aptitudes, experts have realized that teaching methods ought to differ, too. In order to teach a child a second language it is important to expose them to both languages at school and at home. Full immersion will help a child pick up on patterns more readily. Also, using mnemonic techniques like singing songs or having repetitive drills will help wire the new language and its pronunciations into a child's brain. Older language learners often get hung up on pronunciation but learn to understand the grammatical and syntactical patterns more easily. Therefore, adults should concentrate on getting the grammatical fundamentals down so as not to get discouraged by pronunciation difficulties. Once the grammar is down, the difficult specter of correct pronunciation can be slowly chiseled away at and refined over time.

The Man Who Talked Too Much

Dr. Bob is a legend at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, but if you go on campus to ask students where to find “Dr. Bob” the only people who will direct you to him will be those who are in the field of Communication. Dr. Bob, also known as Dr. Robert Steinmiller, presides over his class in a way that makes you think of Santa Claus. He looks like the jolly one, too – with a bright red nose, a round belly, and a full beard. He likes to laugh, tell stories, and is incredibly approachable.

Dr. Bob was my favorite teacher in college and as the debate coach he was a close mentor to me. Without debate and his encouragement, I probably would not have crawled out of my shell. Since I graduated from a small school, I took a lot of courses from the same professor – and Dr. Bob was always my choice. Dr. Bob was a story teller and a joke teller. For as wonderful and as amazing of a professor that he was, he had a tendency to get a little long winded – not that he wasn’t an amazing communicator, he just failed to miss the warning signs in his easily distracted college students.

Here are the warning signs that Dr. Bob should have been looking for:

  • Lots and lots of yawning.
  • No one is blinking (also known as “zoning out”)
  • Obviously working on something else.
  • Sleeping.

These are also warning signs you can look for in your next presentation to tell if you need to bring your points back into focus. Just like Dr. Bob, I bet you’re a great presenter, it’s just sometimes; we forget that when we are passionate about something, we might go on just a little bit too long. If you can recognize the warning signs early, you’ll be able to wrap up your story and get back on track.

Have you ever seen these signs when you’re in the middle of a presentation? Share in the comments and tell me what did to get everyone’s attention back. How did you get yourself back on track?

PS: Dr. Bob if you are reading this – you were always my favorite and you always will be.

How to Spin a Story from a Moment

If you’ve been keeping up with me lately, you’ll know that I recently purchased my first house and have been getting settled for about a month. One of the things that I enjoy the most about my new home is that we are in the flight path of DFW International airport. Whenever I’m outside, I love to watch the planes fly overhead. I know it sounds silly, but I really enjoy watching the jets climb over the tree tops and then make the slow turn that brings them directly over my house.

Since I’m a creative person, and a writer, I find myself thinking of who is on the plane, where is the plane going, and why. The plane flying overhead only lasts a moment and there is a lot of compelling story that could be told. Stories are essential for driving your point home, especially when presenting. Stories give you context, they show the audience a way to see a different perspective, and they also set up the punch line to any jokes you might be trying to tell. But even the best writer can get writers block and creating stories can be that much harder if you don’t do it on a regular basis. In order to create stories you have to see the world in a different way. Here’s an exercise you can do to start to open your eyes to seeing those stories.

Ask one question about everything that makes you take pause. Seeing something that makes you look again is a great way to start to see the stories. Whenever you see something like that ask yourself one question about what you saw. Write down your question and a brief description of the scene so you don’t forget.

Example: The other day, there were men in the building wearing sombreros and when asked about them; the response was “That’s top secret”. I asked myself why they were wearing the sombreros.

Answer the question with one sentence. When you get home or back to the office, answer the question in one sentence. Take my sombrero question – “Why were these men wearing sombreros?” and answer it very simply. My answer to the question as “Because it was someone’s birthday”.

In three paragraphs describe the events leading up to the moment that made you take pause. Why would someone want everyone to wear sombreros on their birthday? Did the boss rent a margarita machine? Does someone really like salsa dancing? The reason to this is because if you can “make up” a story you should have an easier time seeing the stories that are always around you.

Doing this isn’t going to turn you into an author, but what it will do is get your mind open to what could be going on around you, and give you more of the ability to see the world through open eyes. You never know where the inspiration for your next blog post might come from.

Understand Language to Make Language Work for You

In the field of linguistics there has for long been a debate on how human beings develop the ability to communicate. Often referred to as the nature versus nurture debate, the argument is over whether we are born with an innate ability for language or learn to use language through our interactions with environmental stimuli. Over time, both sides have presented convincing evidence. For example, Noam Chomsky, a linguist from MIT, demonstrated that babbling newborn babies produce phenomes (the smallest units of sound) which they could never have heard in the language of their present country, but which are used in a variety of languages all over the world. Babbling babies’ use of phenomes proves, according to Chomsky, that the human brain is prepackaged with a “language faculty.” Meanwhile, proponents of the nurture theory say babies merely make these sounds independent of any prewired linguistic ability. Given the nature of our vocal chords, any human has the potential to make these sounds; certain phenomes only become more difficult as a particular human grows more accustomed to the sound of the language in which he or she is immersed. It’s a matter of cultural evolution, according to the nurture camp. Depending on your interpretation of the data, the debate leans to one side or the other. But it’s most likely a combination of both: humans have some sort of built-in, prepackaged ability for language, which formed slowly via mechanisms of Darwinian evolution, but which quickly develops and matures based on input from the environment.

No matter which way the debate leans, all seem to agree on one fact: each one of us begins developing our linguistic intelligence at an early stage. Now that we’re older, we can hone in on this linguistic intelligence and put it to use. After all, before you master something, you must first understand it.

Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner says humans developed language as a tool. It’s a means at our disposal for achieving an end. Every time you speak, according to Gardner, you use language to achieve one of four ends.

They’re broken down as follows:

  1. People use language to convince or induce other people to a course of action. A boss, for example, may tell his employee that he needs his TPS reports by the end of the week, or a friend may ask another friend to pass the salad dressing at the table. According to Gardner, lawyers and politicians have developed this ability to a high degree, but it’s also an ability that begins to form at a young age—like when a three-year-old wants a second helping of cake.
  2. Language is used for mnemonics. Before humans had language, memorization was far more difficult. Language, however, functions as a tool for codifying and memorizing things. We use chunks to memorize phone numbers. We use mnemonics like Never, Eat, Sour, Watermelons to memorize the cardinal directions.
  3. Language is used as a tool for explanation. In fact, it’s the primary tool for teaching. Whether explaining literature or mathematics, anyone trying to teach someone something does so through the use of language. This is part of the reason why the human lexicon is forever expanding. As new developments and breakthroughs are made, new vocabulary words are needed to explain them. Google it.
  4. Finally, language is used to talk about language. That is, language is used to reflect upon language. This is called “metalinguistic analysis.” We can see this when a child asks his parent about conceptual words, like “dream” or “wish.” These questions would require the parents to think about the word and use language to explain its meaning.

Now that you have (I hope) a better understanding of the uses of language, try thinking of ways that you can put it to use. You can be confident in your linguistic abilities—after all they’ve been evolving since before you were born. Ask yourself the following questions: How can I put language to use to get a colleague at work to do something for me? What mnemonic techniques can I use to memorize things? How can I better use language to teach someone something, to make something run more smoothly on my next conference call or at work? If there is a difficult concept you’re working with, look at it at the quantum level. Look at the actual words you’re using to describe it and see if you can’t break those words down into easier-to-understand concepts. Who knows, a little metalinguistic analysis may very well make the answer to your problem crystal clear.

You Are Not A Bird, Stop Winging It

I went back a few weeks ago and watched my wedding video. We had a wonderful ceremony and like most weddings it wasn’t without its problems. The AC stopped working in the reception hall, which in the middle of June means everyone is going to sweat like mad. My friend from high school had to leave in an ambulance after accidentally putting her hand through the glass window pane and passing out in the bathroom – something I didn’t know until well after the wedding. (She’s a really great friend). Aside from those things, we were also the catalyst for what has become the worst best man speech of all time.

No, I’m not being mean, if you ask him, he will agree with you, and if you ask him what went wrong he will tell you.

“I was winging it.”

No, you didn’t read it wrong – my husband’s best friend made it up as he went along (for 30 minutes) about really nothing.

Personally, I think you should never wing it. Even if it’s a situation where you’re speech is something that everyone isn't looking forward to.

I understand that not every speech can be planned.

  1. Always have an idea of how you're going to introduce yourself. You should always have a standard greeting for yourself and your company, that way you're not stumbling through "umms" and "ahhs" as you try to think of things on the spot. This is also known as your "Elevator Pitch".
  2. Think about the subject being covered and what your knowledge of the subject matter is. If you were asked to "weigh in" for a brief moment, what would you say? You don't have to write this down, but at least give yourself an idea of what your take would be so you would be prepared if someone were to say, "Hey you, what do you think about blogging/social media/etc".
  3. Do some research. Learning more about a subject is always a great idea -- and if you think that you might end up having to weigh in on a subject you don't know much about it, take about ten minutes and Google it. It'll pay off in the end.

No matter what you're about to attend (wedding, graduation speech, networking event) you should always remember that you are not a bird, so stop winging it.

What do you do to get prepared when anticipating having to make a speech?

In-N-Out Fort Worth – A Countdown to Opening Day {Updated}

Update August 12, 2011 - Well, the In-N-Out is officially open here in Fort Worth, Texas.  Not surprisingly David, Rob, and Jim were some of the first people in line. Barry Shlachter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram caught up with them as they were buying t-shirts.  Check out Barry's article to see how we, and the rest of the city, reacted to the long awaited opening.  

Update August 4, 2011 - The In-N-Out burger is making progress on West 7th. It should be opening soon and while there is no official Grand Opening available on the website just yet, the building is mostly in tact and should start to get seats and cooking equipment soon.

 

 

Every so often I come along a place that I love. Usually these are restaurants. One great example is Maggiano's. I've eaten at the one in Vegas and it was great. Since I live in Fort Worth, TX, there are rare times when I actually get to eat there. There is one in Dallas, but that is a pretty far drive.

My apologies to our CIO, since our office is 100% Microsoft, but another place I love is the Apple store. Fort Worth finally got their own Apple store and it's been great having it so close (again, the closest Apple store used to be Dallas). If you have never been in an Apple store, do so. It's an experience.

Finally, another food love is coming to Texas.

When I was in Vegas for work, I got to eat at In-N-Out Burgers. I don't know what it is or why I love it so much, but it's awesome. Double-double with cheese and a chocolate shake. Heaven. And the fries are out of this world. After eating there the first time I immediately wished that they would expand farther east (In-N-Out started in California). Of course this was a pipe dream and I resigned myself with the fact that it would never happen. I would only get to dine in hamburger heaven when traveling out west.

Then the unexpected happened. In-N-Out announced they were coming to Texas. And not just Texas, but my hometown of Fort Worth!

So, in celebration (and eager expectation) I am going to document the progress of the building of this fine establishment.

The location is on West 7th. There are several places worthy of eating on W 7th, so once a week, I head over to that part of town to dine (but really just to check out building progress!).

This past week saw the builders finally started putting up framework! Previously it was foundation and plumbing. Here are the pictures we have been taking in order. Enjoy and stay tuned for more updates!

 

Bonus: In-N-Out has a very simple menu. But, if you are one of the few that know the ins and outs (pun intended), then you know about their secret menu. If you don't, I've included it below. http://in-n-out.com/menu/not-so-secret-menu.aspx

Interning at AccuConference: Saying Goodbye

Sadly, I have to annouce that our summer interns Kaitlyn and Laura Lee have left us to head back to college. It's been a big summer for them and I have to say they have been a pleasure to have around the office. Here is our interns last thoughts on their summer at AccuConference.

By: Laura Lee - Oklahoma State

Well everybody, the time has come. Time to pack up my bags, shove everything I own into my car, jump on I-35 and head north for the familiar 4 hours. The college term is starting soon and it’s time to get back to the hectic, crazy and fun life that accompanies every college student. This will be my last year as an undergrad on campus, and soon I will have to face the real world, go find a big girl job, and eventually, grow up. These past three months have served as a stepping stone for the rest of my future life. It’s helped me realize my options of growing up as well as the many facets of working in a business environment. I will sincerely miss the people of Accuconference along with their good humor and high level of efficiency.

What was great about this internship was that through it all I actually felt of use to the rest of the employees in the office. It was cool to be of help through the company’s website changes and creations, and help directly with customers through daily mail outs and monthly UPS boxes. From everything that our ‘mentor’, Maranda, taught Kaitlyn and I’d be happy to say that we gave back a little, by being responsible enough to help out with her projects as a team.

This summer, working with the Marketing team here at Accuconference has taught me that flexibility is key to success with SEO and Google. You also must know your game and know it well, so your flexibility isn’t tinged with surprise. I also have been introduced to the remarkable monster known to us as Google Reader, and I am sure that I will be reading through the blogs that have been recommended to me and blogs that I’ve found on my own for a very long time. It’s a whole different type of learning experience when you are actually able to witness firsthand what is being taught to you. It’s obviously a lot more interactive than a boring classroom setting, and because of this I’ve been able to learn even more.

I now have a far more expansive work portfolio leaving this internship than I did before. My plan is to impress my future employers through the roof and make them hire me on the spot with my beefed up resume from this summer. Internships are the best thing you can do for yourself if you are a college undergraduate. I know that during the time I spent searching for the right internship for me I was keenly aware that I would be setting myself at a serious disadvantage if I did not intern with a company that aligned with my interests (for example, marketing).

Overall, it’s been a great summer. I’ve learned a lot more about SEO, learned some office/business etiquette, and I’ve learned that in the Texas heat it really is possible to fry an egg on the sidewalk. I’ll be walking out of this office for the last time, and I’ll be walking out a more educated person.

 

By: Kaitlyn - Texas A&M

This week will mark a bittersweet occasion, my last week of interning at AccuConference. A couple more days and Laura Lee and I will be gone, back to our own schools. I know you all are devastated (riiight), but I want y’all to stay strong.

Someone in a movie once said, “Where is the good in goodbye?” While this may be a fitting question for many situations, I can find plenty of good in my goodbye from AccuConference. From the first day I set foot in the office, it has been nothing but a learning experience and I will be departing here with a brain full of new smarts. Not only that, I will be leaving with a larger work portfolio and a shiny new pin on my resume. In today’s economy, I am thankful to have even snagged an internship at all, let alone the valuable one I had this summer. I can’t help but feel a little silly when I think back to my first blog post and how torn I was when deciding which company to intern for. I might be a little biased, but I’m quite confident I picked the right one.

Of all I have learned, one thing that sticks out to me is relearning how to write. In college, I submit a paper to the professor, they grade it, write some notes, give it back to me, and it’s done. It’s a one-time event. I hate to admit that I do not follow the traditional writing process of spending weeks writing multiple drafts for each paper that is due. Once it is submitted I am done, and I dump everything about that paper out of my head, never to return to it again. Here at work, the story is far from the same. I may submit five drafts of a writing piece to my bosses before it is approved. I receive critiques and edits to be made and I constantly revisit the same articles until they are up to par. I’ve realized this is how the real world works, so I’m glad I learned that this summer instead of later in the midst of my first real job.

Another is, of course, all the things I learned about Google and SEO, but anyone who has read my blog posts is probably fully aware of this by now. I was learning something new about it every single week. I feel like it deserves some mention in my very last blog post, considering it has been a recurring theme in each of them.

As the short time remaining before my last day of work is winding down, I am reminded of how pleasant it’s been working with this great bunch of people. The thoughtful gestures, friendly conversations, and welcoming faces will surely be missed. It’s been impressive watching them market an intangible product and give customer service to customers they will never meet. I hope each of them realize how valuable they are.

Sure, I will be saying goodbye to AccuConference, but I’m glad to say there is good in this one, and I’m certain all that “good” will come in handy for whatever I pursue in the future. I am excited for the new changes ahead of me and plan to take everything head-on, jump in with both feet, fly by the seat of my pants, put my best foot forward and all those other sayings about trying my best and moving onward. I think all that’s left to say is, “Look out, world, here I come.”

Down With Being Boring

Have you ever seen the movie Down With Love?

I have seen it so many times. You have to look beyond the fact that it didn't get great reviews and see it as what it really is -- it a satirical piece that pokes gentle, but loving, fun at the rom-coms of the 60's. It happened to be on a couple of weeks ago and I watched it with a friend. (Sidenote: Movies like this should always be watched with your best friend. It makes them way more fun.)

The movie was so flawless in its satire - even right down to the over the top, wild hand gestures. David Hyde Pierce really has those down pat. My friend and I determined that everything should have big, over the top hand gestures. It makes things more exciting. Simply reading your lines in a movie and expecting a reaction is not going to be effective. The reason Down With Love works is because the actors and directors took special steps to make sure they moved and spoke in a way that would make the audience feel a certain way. The hand movements and camera angle were supposed to look cheesy -- so that I would remember my love of 60s rom-coms and giggle.

The next time you host an event or a web conference, think about how you are using the tools at your disposal to evoke emotions in your participants. Much like an actor, your tools are limited to your voice, movements, and facial expression. When you're without one or more of these elements, like on a conference call, it makes it harder to get the reactions you want and you could end up failing. Think about when Hollywood made the move to "talking pictures" rather than silent films, many of the faces that people had grown to love were no longer a viable part of Hollywood because they had really unattractive voices.

It's not really a shock, then, that I am often suggesting that you are aware of the way you sound. Which is where this title comes into play -- Down With Love has inspired me to advise to be Down With Being Boring.

  • Stop writing out all of your notes on a page and reading them word for word.
  • Stop standing behind a podium.
  • Stop mumbling.
  • Stop leaving your audience out of the presentation.

Instead....

  • Start making a bullet list so that you can follow a guide for your presentation instead of droning on and on. (People know when you're reading from a list)
  • Step out from behind the podium and walk around the stage during live presentations. Movements are natural.
  • Speak clearly and enunciate. Be sure you host a sound check with the conference call provider or the venue to have a sound check.
  • Leave plenty of time for a Q&A session. The information you're presenting will surely raise questions along the way -- questions that only you can answer.

On your next presentation or conference call, try taking the down with being boring approach and see how your feedback changes. What do you do to keep from being boring when you make presentations?

Interning at AccuConference: The Old School Way

Laura Lee brings us this look into how there are some people still holding onto the "old school" way of doing things in this weeks Intern Post.

There’s a saying out there that goes something like ‘old habits die hard’. In the business world, and especially the online marketing world, I’ve found that the key to survival is to be flexible and grossly up to date on new technologies and SEO. I guess the world is full of contradictions then, because merely 100 feet down the hallway from our SEO powerhouse and updating machine is an office, complete with a desk, a peppermint jar, and a typewriter. No, this is not meant to give the office an antique-y feel; the entire office literally belongs in a museum. Strolling down the hallway one morning on the way back from the building café, (great breakfast muffins- not so great chocolate chip cookies) my intern buddy and I encountered this completely foreign sight. An older gentleman, with suspenders and beard was bent over his typewriter hard at work. We couldn’t believe it – we had to go back for a second look.

Here I am thinking that a typewriter (the last time I saw one of those things was in Grandma’s basement) is completely useless. No email system? No Google? No FACEBOOK?? I wondered how that office managed to stay in business. But thinking back on it, our neighbor with his typewriter probably is the least distracted tenant in the building. (Maybe in the whole country- who knows how many more typewriters are out there). He’s got nothing to take his mind off of typing; no social media notifications popping up at him. He is a free man. So my question is: is newer actually better? There is no way that I can be reverted back to a typewriter; especially when all I know is the PC and the Mac both which are fully capable of spooning me up some Facebook, Twitter, and all the other distracting social media whenever my heart desires.

I know even though we at AccuConference are equipped with our high powered and internet-capable machines that keep us so wrapped up in what we are doing, it actually is possible to enjoy yourself when hard at work.

This hot summer weather is not letting up anytime soon- I’m pretty sure Texas is heading towards a consecutive heat record. So I plan to make the best of it by blasting my AC, frying eggs on the parking lot and spending as much time as close to bodies of water as I can. (Preferably IN the water). Other than that, I’ll be here, melting in the heat and learning as much as I can!

Are You Asking The Right Questions?

I’ve finally purchased a home and one of the (many) unexpected things I have to do involves transferring my utilities. My power company makes it very easy – all I have to do is go online and arrange for the start date at one address and the stop date at the other. (Thanks Reliant)

With my cable company, my husband and I have been considering switching to a different company, since my bill has gotten completely out of control. I joined the customer service chat with my current provider to get details on how to turn off the service, if we chose to do so. The person I chatted with was very helpful and I was very honest with her about what we were considering.

She gave me all of the information, let me know about when I would be billed again and how the bill would be prorated should we chose to disconnect our services. She forgot one very important thing – she never asked me why I was planning a switch of services. There’s a good chance that with the right price, I could have been persuaded to stay with them a little longer.

My reason for wanting to leave is the steady dollar or two rise of my bill over the last few cycles, which can add up fast. This representative failed to ask me one very simple question – Why is it that you are looking for a new service? It’s very important when a customer calls you to cancel or close their service you ask them why they are interested in discontinuing their services.

Even if you can’t retain the customer, they might be willing to give you some insight on how you can improve an aspect or two of your company. Are you asking questions when your clients call in to cancel services? Do you think it’s important to find out why they are leaving and going to another brand? What do you ask them instead?

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