The first platform for language is speaking (making audible sounds) and listening (making meaning of those sounds). The second platform is writing (making a physical representation of the spoken sounds) and reading (understanding those representations). These two platforms contain the two functions of language: expressive (speaking/writing) and receptive (listening/reading).

In the last blog, we explored the first platform and its impact on brain development and how the ability in oral language appears to be a natural development for the human being. Here we will investigate the second platform that we refer to as ‘learning to read and write’. Acquiring the skill and knowledge to interpret the written form of a language appears to be much less biologically determined and ‘natural’ to the human experience. Indeed, it is here that we find a great deal of research and discourse on the question of dyslexia and why significant barriers arise for some children in accessing the written form of language.

All written representations of language have their roots in early pictographs that eventually evolved to represent the flow of verbal utterances. The next stage of this evolution produced visual representations that took the form of logographic systems –  commonly exampled by Chinese which can read in multiple directions on the horizontal or vertical axis – to alphabetical ones that read left to right or right to left.  

Chinese logographic writing is comprised of characters drawn with a number of strokes that fit into a defined space and its form does not provide clues to the pronunciation. Whereas alphabetical languages string letters together in a horizontal line and the organization of the symbols provide clues as to the sounds contained in the word. Others utilize combinations, blends and variations of these two.

So given this rather awe-inspiring array of written languages – how does the brain respond to the stimuli that the different languages trigger? And, do the logographic and alphabetical representations access or stimulate different regions of the brain in retrieving comprehension? These are complex questions that have been afforded a greater clarity with the recent neurological studies of the brain.

During processing the visual-spatial aspect of Chinese written language tends to stimulate more dominant activity in the right hemisphere of the brain. Whereas the alphabetical systems seem to more dominantly activate the left hemisphere.

The specifics of the brain’s activity is far more complex than set out above.  Suffice it to say that the cognitive benefits of the exposure to both systems develop a child who perceives, understands and experiences the world around them in a significantly different manner than the child exposed to one form of written language.

This brings us to the point that the choice of Mandarin as a third language at The Giles School is not a topical choice founded in the current societal trends; it is founded in the benefits to the developing brain as it experiences the written forms of logographic and alphabetical systems.

Therein lies the distinct advantage for children at The Giles School! Up, down, right or left – simply smarter!


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