10-year-old schoolgirl who can speak 10 languages has been crowned one of country's top linguists

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Halil Ibrahim Tutuncuoglu "Бёcäטsع Լîfe's cômplicåtعd eñøugh"
Turkey
Local time: 19:18
Turkish to English
+ ...
If aliens come Oct 24, 2011

we should send her to represent the world because she can easily learn their language

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:18
Hebrew to English
This is absolutely atrocious journalism Oct 24, 2011

I'm normally quite critical of any news story I'm faced with, but this just has to be one of the most twisted and inaccurate stories I've ever come across.

Let's deconstruct it.

The source: The Mirror - for those who don't know, it's tabloid gutter press at its best. I wouldn't believe the Mirror if they told me snow was white.

The title: How misleading and inaccurate can one title be? It claims 10 languages, but the article actually only mentions three. The second claim: "has been crowned one of the country's top linguists" is absolute nonsense. She won a local primary school competition, recognized by....nobody (other than the school itself). When I was at primary school, I won several such awards, nobody lauded me as the country's top linguist. I think the appropriate phrase here is "Get real".

Now, moving on to the article:
Claim: "Taiwan-born Sonia Yang is fluent in English, Chinese and Japanese among others".
Reality: this is just really sloppy journalism "among others", not to mention how do they define "fluent", I doubt it's the same definition that most linguists would arrive at. Chances are that they are including languages she probably has some knowledge of, French for example which she is probably being taught at school, is she fluent in it? No.


Claim: "she stunned teachers by learning Ugandan in little more than a few weeks"
Reality: She probably learned a few basics and phrases in a few weeks. Come on, as linguists I think we all know that it simply isn't possible to learn a language in a few weeks, for anybody, no matter how young or talented. This kind of inflated claim of language learning is in the realms of science fiction with aliens speaking perfect English within moments or machines which instantly translate alien languages. It's fantasy. Only the most naive Rosetta Stone enthusiast would believe this to be possible.

For such a short article it's surprisingly bad. I don't doubt that she's a bright and intellectually curious little girl, but this is just very very amateur/irresponsible journalism (to be expected from the Mirror).

I seriously doubt that at any point in the evolution of this article was anyone involved at all who had any knowledge whatsoever of languages.

This kind of story should be filed alongside stories such as "Fishboy discovered in Lake", "Talking dog wows audiences with his speeches on astrophysics" etc.


Edited for a typo

[Edited at 2011-10-24 07:25 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:18
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Here's the rundown Oct 24, 2011

I did some googling and found this:

This girl (Sonia Yang from North West UK) was an entrant in a learn-a-language competition run by a teach-yourself language publishing house, EuroTalk. There were other stars that have mastered many languages, too (e.g. Ben Fawcett from South East UK). Students who wanted to participate had to install EuroTalk's software (free license given to entrants) and learn one language (Portuguese) at conversational level.

In the first round, students had to learn Portuguese and pass a test via quizzes on a computer. Those who scored highest in their region on Portuguese were sent a license for Kazakh. Kazakh was tested via the internet interactively (entrants had to battle each other live, i.e. not just answer a quiz). Those who tested highest on Kazakh then had to learn a mystery language in the third round, which turned out to be Luganda.

Sonia Yang's "10 languages" feat is because she could speak English, Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese by the time she emigrated at the age of FIVE from Taiwan to the UK. These languages were not tested in the language learning competition, so they didn't contribute to her being a regional winner. The final three languages that make up the "10" (also not tested in the competition) are French, German and Spanish, and those are likely to have been included in the initial software that she got when she had to learn Portuguese, and she can't speak them very well anyway.

The children had to learn Luganda in 1 month, and they had 8 months to learn the other two languages (I'm not sure how long they had for each language, and if they knew beforehand that the second language was Kazakh).

Personally I think that this is an excellent way to stimulate language learning in children (even though they are likely to have forgotten 90% of what they've learnt after 1 year).

[Edited at 2011-10-24 08:21 GMT]


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:18
Member
French to English
+ ...
Symptomatic of British attitudes Oct 24, 2011

Sadly, it's not just the journalist who is guilty of trivialising the difficulty (and reality) of learning a foreign language to a high level. I have met plenty of people in this country whose definition of "fluent" seems to be along the lines of "can say hello/goodbye/thankyou and count to ten". Depth is far more useful than breadth, but breadth seems to be what impresses people the most, which is why we end up with competitions and articles such as this. Then we have the fact that in-house jobs here pay so poorly. It's high time that this idea that languages can be picked up casually in a short time was countered, though that will be no easy task, given how well-entrenched it seems to be!

[Edited at 2011-10-24 08:14 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:18
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Dangers of deconstruction Oct 24, 2011

Ty Kendall wrote:
Let's deconstruct it.


Deconstruction is a great tool, but your analysis is a good example to show its flaws.

How misleading and inaccurate can one title be? It claims 10 languages, but the article actually only mentions three.


Other news sites mention all ten -- English, Chinese (whatever that means), Taiwanese, Japanese, Portuguese, Kazakh, Luganda, German, French and Spanish.

She won a local primary school competition, recognized by....nobody (other than the school itself).


Not true -- she won a regional round of an annual national competition organised by a language training publisher.

I think we all know that it simply isn't possible to learn a language in a few weeks, for anybody, no matter how young or talented.


I agree that this claim should be taken with a pinch of salt, but let's face it: if the journo doesn't sensationalise it, the story would be quite bland, don't you agree?

The important thing here is that she would be able to understand non-known sentences containing mostly known words, and that she should be able construct sentences that differ substantially from example sentences.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:18
Hebrew to English
Samuel, my point remains... Oct 24, 2011

I was analysing this article, not researching and analysing others. Therefore my point about the title being misleading still stands up to scrutiny.
My point about the award not being recognized was perhaps not quite worded correctly, I should have said it wasn't recognized by an institution regarded as capable as bestowing such a title.
If anything, your in-depth analysis of the process makes it even worse as it shows the really misinformed content and overall misrepresentation of this specific article from the Mirror.

[Edited at 2011-10-24 09:46 GMT]


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:18
Hebrew to English
Also very dubious about Eurotalk.... Oct 24, 2011

Following on from my point about the award not exactly being...official (Eurotalk are not even the most renowned provider of teach yourself books in England, http://www.teachyourself.co.uk/ hold that place - and I'd argue that even they aren't capable of naming the country's top linguist based on a self-promoting children's competition).

...I don't necessarily agree that this is the best way to get children interested in languages. Firstly because that task in England is a bit like trying to push water around a field, and secondly because Eurotalk and its ilk are usually based on outdated behaviourist and/or audio-lingual methods that went out of fashion in language teaching before I was even born. I'm all in favour of increasing children's interest in languages, but I'm sure there are more communicative methods to do it with.

If we bombard children with CDs telling them to "listen, repeat, listen, repeat" then the only lesson we are teaching them is that languages are boring.

Don't misunderstand my criticisms to be about the girl, or her efforts, of course not. My initial criticism was about Mirror journalism more than anything else. This critique is about the methods being promoted, as I know that better methods are available.


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Halil Ibrahim Tutuncuoglu "Бёcäטsع Լîfe's cômplicåtعd eñøugh"
Turkey
Local time: 19:18
Turkish to English
+ ...
✓∞ ✓∞ ✓∞ :) Oct 24, 2011

Ty Kendall wrote:


This kind of story should be filed alongside stories such as "Fishboy discovered in Lake", "Talking dog wows audiences with his speeches on astrophysics" etc.


Edited for a typo

[Edited at 2011-10-24 07:25 GMT]



✓∞ ✓∞ ✓∞


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:18
Member (2004)
English to Italian
it's from the Mirror... Oct 24, 2011

enough said!

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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:18
Hebrew to English
Exactly :) Oct 24, 2011

Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL wrote:

enough said!



This was my initial point too. The moment I saw it was from the Mirror, alarm bells rang.

As a follow on from my previous post, I also don't believe that promoting this type of learning is beneficial for children.

It's the type of learning that my German friend calls Bulimia lernen.(Bulimia learning). The cramming of knowledge indiscriminately to be regurgitated later. That's all this type of language teaching methodology promotes. The "listen/repeat" cycle fails to instil proper understanding of language at all.
Not to mention concept checking etc.
Whilst this may be of limited use for 2 weeks holiday in Uganda (not sure it would be my ideal holiday destination), for long term language acquisition it's pretty substandard.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:18
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Mirror Oct 24, 2011

Nothing published in the Mirror is worthy of any intelligent person's attention.

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