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The answer to an age-old question?


 YCCMB

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So, it may not be a particularly scientific method, but I'm sure it will be interesting. If you haven't watched any of the series, BBC2's "The Twinstitute" tonight looks at language learning.

The premise behind the series has been to try out different ways of doing things on sets of identical twins, to see if one thing is better/more successful than another as a way to lose weight/keep fit/maintain brainpower/prevent mozzie bites.....

Tonight the identical twins will test different ways of language learning, with one half of a set of twins having one to one tuition whilst the other tries self-teaching using apps.

8.30 pm BBC2, or 9.30 in France.
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Saw bits of the first programme, but not watched since .. found it all a bit too slow for me.  being a multiple, though not, we think, identical, I thought it might be interesting, but didn't find it  particularly so.  As for language learning, I'm more of the approach that we all learn differently, even twins etc, (the etc being multiples), and it's finding the approach that suits you is better than applying "twin" rules.

I do remember that at one time one of my sisters and I got the same score in an exam (the in-built ones rather than the statutory ones).  The class all laughed, and jeered, until the teacher said, yes, but they did not get it it in the same way ...  so pure luck we got the same points.  I think it was in English rather than French though.

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Well, superficial though it was, the results were quite interesting overall. The "half" of the two sets of twins who had a tutor scored an average of 161/200 and the other half who learned online an average of 131, in an exam to test their language learning after 30 hours. This was a test based on the Common European Framework, so both sets achieved level A1. It was made clear that both sets of twins had studied quite assiduously to achieve these results, though. I've always made the point that language learning does rely very heavily on the commitment and effort of the person learning. They learned Swedish, by the way, obviously to remove any bias from previous learning at school.

The most interesting part of the experiment was that before and after the language learning the twins took tests to determine their levels of cognitive function. After the language learning, they all more or less doubled their score in the cognitive function test, which would confirm that learning another language is remarkably good for one's brain health.
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As you say, "for brain health", it's good to learn another language, and that's always been known.  Now for my particular plug and that's learning to play a musical instrument[:)]

For children, it's great for them to play in an orchestra, nothing like it to learn discipline in an enjoyable way.

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Betty, and Mint,

I totally agree for both.  IN fact, I know I am not good at self-taught - I need the stimulation and push of an organised class.  Same with dancing - another good "brain food" activity, when learning a routine, or indeed, singing in a choir and learning a new piece.  Also the socialising in these cases helps. 

As for the twin aspect, I suspect our learning styles ARE similar, but too long since we studied together to know.

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The twin aspect is interesting, I think, if for no ther reason than that it lends an extra "control" dimension to many of the tests. As the twins presenting the series are both medical doctors, and as they've debunked a few myths and some pseudo-science during the series, I've found it worthwhile, if a bit lightweight at times. After all, many similar programmes on the TV rely on getting the same person to try two different things and compare results, so at least this cuts the time taken by half!

I've once taught identical twins. Their personalities were clearly quite different and one of the two was certainly a leader, so unless she was prepared to try something, neither of them would do it. If you asked her sibling she would almost "check" with her sister before responding. It was a very interesting experience.
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Do you think there's a genetic element in ability to learn languages?
I have an idea it's linked to musical sense, and IS genetic to some extent. So in those experiments on the tv they would need to compare id. twins with none id., and siblings, and unrelated.
Then there's a difference between chatting, comprehension, reading, writing gramatically in a foreign language.
Judith - I agree with you about different methods for different people.
Husband and I taught ourselves hebrew from children's books, but just to be able to translate. We learnt a bit of grammar too - it's quite a simple language once you know the alphabet.
But neither of us can speak hebrew/ivrit.

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I don't think the experiment set out to look at ability, Pat. The objective was to compare methodology.

I'd say some people have more of a facility for language than others, but who knows why that is? In certain circumstances, it's certainly to do with input. A good teacher can help, but even a good teacher can't force a student to learn, if they aren't prepared or committed to putting in a lot of effort themselves.
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Agree 100% about commitment. My first French 'penfriend' was obliged to learn English for his job but I was learning French because I wanted to. No comparison in the results. His wife ended up doing better than he did, much to his disgust and despite lots of in-house courses, immersion stays and practice hours :-)
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I totally agree about the commitment, Betty and Noisette. Hence, having a boy/girlfriend of the desired language is a huge help towards fluency.

I also think, to make progress in pronunciation and cadence, you need to be a good listener and to notice for yourself how people around you say things.

I must say, I had a slight shudder starting reading this thread about experiments on twins, as I have just come back from viewing an amazing documentary "Three Identical Strangers”, in which it turned out that twins or triplets up for adoption had been intentionally separated at birth and placed with families of different social milieux to test the effects of nature v nurture.

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Oh no.....

Oddly I've just read an item on the BBC news website about Cambodian "cash for surrogacy" agencies being clamped down upon and the surrogate mothers being forced by law to keep the babies until they're 18. These babies have no biology in common with the surrogate mothers. So they're being forced to nurture without the nature bit.

The world is a mad place.
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Yes, I read that too, Betty. It specially struck me, as my lovely daughter and son-in-law have just had a beautiful baby carried by a wonderful surrogate in Cornwall.

In the U.K. it is illegal to pay for this service; only verifiable expenses allowed. There is a move to change this, and to authorise payment of surrogates here, but my s-I-l, dd, and surrogate are hugely against this development as it would remove the present extraordinary altruism that underpins the whole undertaking here.

The subject is under much discussion in France at the moment where surrogacy is totally illegal, forcing people to go abroad. Marc-Olivier Fogel is campaigning for a change in the law to allow what I think is called GPA (gestation par autrui); he and his partner arranged their paid-for surrogacy in the US.

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Re someone's post earlier up - Betty -? - yes, you do find that  twins often have a dominant one even when identical.  With us, 3, the "leadership" changed often, but one was the more dominant, but not excessively so.  The nature / nurture argument is interesting, as we were brought up very much together and what was given to one was also given to the others (with one or two exceptions as talents emerged, eg musical sister got a clarinet, we two others did not)  but we were all encouraged to do what we did best, regardless.  But three distinct if very similar characters emerged.

As for language - well that was me, the more academic of the three ... but that is a much to do with schooling and application, as well as interest, IMHO.

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There was a spoken element to the test, Pat, just as most robust tests would require (there's one VERY famous one, used, I regret to say, extensively in both France and Japan, which is based on the premise that if you can read and listen you must be able to speak and write, but don't get me started)

In this case, the teacher who had taught two of the twins went to Sweden with all four, and each team had a list of specific tasks to undertake involving daily situations (buying things in a shop, asking directions, asking for information etc) using only Swedish. To ensure maximum co-operation from their random Swedish interlocutors, all the participants wore t-shirts emblazoned with an explanation that they were there to test their Swedish and asking people not to respond in English, which, as we know, most Swedish people are more than capable of doing.

The tutor followed, noted how well the students managed, and marked them on their performance.

If you're not familiar with the Common European Framework for language learning and testing (which the programme used to assess and interpret the outcomes) it does require measurement of all four skills.
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Fairy nuff! I didn't know about the CEF for language learning.
I would fail on comprehension as I'm a bit deaf now,though not too bad on the other 3.

I love the french language, also Italian, which I've never learnt, though I know a few words.
When I was a student I had a holiday job where there were lots of Italian immigrants, and I managed to communicate with them with a mixture of latin and french. They were a lively lot [:)]

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