Category Archives: Multilingual Education

Radio podcast format review…

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The emergence of new digital devices as laptops, mobile phones and e-notebooks led us to raise the question about the need of handwriting in different people’s domains. Whether students should keep up learning hand writing at school or not? Do they need to pay so much attention on penmanship during the studying?  Whether people’s writing communication should be transferred from handwriting to keyboarding? These are all vital questions are raised in the The Freakonomics Radio podcast “Who needs handwriting?”.

First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues, @ariyavvv and @lenerakezlevli, who devoted their posts dwelling on the reflective summary, critical review and analysis of this podcast’s content. Please, visit their page and read their blogs to get more insight about this podcast.  However, in this post I would share my views not about the content of the podcast itself, but mostly on the format of it.

The radio host Dubner organized very interesting talk show with different people who shared their studies and views about todays’ role of handwriting in society. Dubner managed to host the radio program in the most informal but at the same time very informative manner. This podcast is not a typical question-answer conversation between radio host and guest, but it went along with analyses and guiding questions of Dubner after each interesting points said by the speakers.

Take as an example the case, when Anne Trubek, the author of the book “The history and uncertain future of handwriting”, talked about the study that showed the positive influence of legible handwriting on students’ achievement at school. After very detailed sharing about this study, everyone would like to believe that Trubek supports handwriting at school. The radio host notices that her conversation led the listeners to believe in that. Therefore, he pauses the interview, asks listeners “Now you think she supports handwriting” and then makes intriguing argument “But you would be wrong”. It is pretty smart and tricky way of leading the radio show. After this unthinkable argument, you would have a lot of question as “Why so?” that will raise your interest to continue to listen to this podcast.

The same tactic or strategy, whatever you call, Dubner uses while talking with PhD in social psychology in Princeton Pam Mueller. She conducted the research with her colleague whether it is beneficial for students to make handwriting notes or it is better to type the notes on the laptop apps.  As a result, handwriting notes were understandable and contained useful information than notes in the laptop. Since this result, you would also tend to think that these researchers would support handwriting. But again the answer is “No”. They are opponents of the new era who support technology and suggest students to organize the trainings for students that teach to type accurate information in a short time.

What kind of strategies did radio host of the podcast that you listened to use during the program? Do you like it? Or will you give some suggestion to make the format of the program better?



Order with consequences



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In the podcast Is This Working? different teachers, educators, parents talk about discipline at school and ask very simple but important questions: what is the reasonable level of discipline? Why do we need kids to unpack their bookbags silently? Is all this discipline for a child or for a teacher? And the most important one: What are the consequences of the punishment for discipline violation?

The podcast starts with the question what teachers would do if a boy does not want to take his hat off during the class. And different approaches to discipline are discussed in its three acts with different storylines. Some stories argue that keeping discipline does not prepare children for a real life because staying quiet and obedient is not always a good way to achieve something in life. Other persuade that not punishment but conversations about the offenses work better as children learn to think about their emotions, emotions of others and collaborate in the society and this is exactly what they need in future. These are all wonderful questions, suggestions, ideas to check and prove by research. What I want to share is another phenomenon that I have found in this podcast which answers the question What are the consequences of the punishment for discipline violation?



I learned about the “discipline policies that push students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at alarming rates—a phenomenon known as the “school-to-prison pipeline“. Moreover, starting from early age black and Latino students are punished more harshly than their white peers and this excessive punishment makes it more likely for them to get in prison once they become adults.   There was a data from College Station at Texas A&M which documented all the suspensions in 2000-2002:

 “And they determined that African American and Hispanic students were twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than their white peers for their first offense. When they looked at African American boys in Texas, 83% were suspended at least once. And usually, they were suspended a lot more than once. That includes anything a school calls suspension.

And what kind of infractions were they getting suspended for? Most of the time, these were not for big things, like hitting a teacher or bringing a weapon to school. They were for things like disrespect, insubordination, willful defiance, the kind of incident that often begins when an angry kid won’t take his hat off”

What do you think about this data? This is the result of the attitude they get at school. They are punished seriously even for minor mistakes. I immediately recalled the blog written by chsherbakov that I read recently about the intrinsic bias against Black schoolers which is seen even in the language of documents framing desegregation.

What I want to say is the issue of keeping discipline in the classroom can be controversial but there is another dimension of the problem which we should take into consideration. There is an attitude which starting from the very early age creates a special mindset, special environment and changes the future of many little kids. This attitude makes them feel bad and unwelcome in the society. This attitude puts them into the conflict with the school, with their parents, with the law. This makes them look for people who would value them no matter what and, unfortunately, very often these people are not the best examples to follow.



Two sides of the coin: Learning a foreign language

The podcast on Freakonomics Radio, called “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?”, gives insight views on the psychological and economical benefits and drawbacks of learning a foreign language. The creator was trying to inform readers about pros and cons of learning L2 by interviewing children and researchers, such as Boaz Keysar, Albert Saiz and Bryan Caplan, in the field.

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Firstly, in terms of psychology, the results of Boaz Keyser’s experiment showed that learning a foreign language has a positive influence on a decision-making process, and I completely agree with it. Based on my personal experience, I can say that the degree of taking risks and decisions varies depended on a language you think and speak. For instance, I usually act a bit braver when I speak Russian, or I feel very confident to express my feelings in English. Moreover, before listening to this podcast I had been saying “I am not a fluent speaker of any language because I choose what language to speak depending on situation/topic”. However, now, after becoming familiar with this psychological aspect of learning foreign language, I have realized that it happens because decision-making processes are not the same in different languages.

Talking about economical view, Albert Saiz claims that you are not going to earn much money from learning additional language in America since your income will increase only for 2-4 %. However, Saiz adds that in some countries, like Israel, Russia or Turkey, mastering English as a second language can raise your salary up to 10-20 %. In this sense, I would say that in our country, Kazakhstan, knowing English is also priority in getting well-paid job. Furthermore, Bryan Caplan supposes that forcing American children to learn L2, other than English, is wasting of time whereas for other countries learning English as a foreign language is a good opportunity to open many doors. Being a citizen of Kazakhstan, I support this point of view. Nowadays English is considered as one of the world languages, and it gives me a chance to deepen my knowledge in science, to communicate with English-speaking people, to travel all over the world, etc.

Overall, I would like to say that the podcast reached its purpose to inform readers about psychological and economical benefits and drawbacks. I suggest everyone to listen to the podcast because it was really interesting to get to know about the things which we usually do not pay attention to.

Ancient curse in the modern world? Linguistic diversity as a blessing or as a burden?


European parliament
Tower of Babel

Almost every nation in the world has its own specific language and culture.  In the episode “Why Don’t We All Speak the Same Language?” professors from different fields discuss possible costs and benefits of linguistic diversity to our societies.

As I have noticed, speakers in the beginning of the episode tried to give information to the audience in an interesting and entertaining way. They supported ideas with examples from personal experience and I found some stories to be really funny. For instance, one of the professors explained that his journey toward studying languages starts at the age of four when he fell in love with a girl speaking different language. Regarding the context and purpose of the discussion, we see how speakers provide some reasons and evidence to support their opinion on linguistic diversity. Director of the economic school Mr. Weber remarks that from the economic point of view linguistic diversity comes at a high cost and has a negative impact on countries’ economy. He used a “linguistic distance” metric in his study and found out that people from different countries speaking the same language can raise their trade benefit by ten percent. Furthermore, Mr. Weber asserts that linguistic diversity in one particular region can lead to linguistic war like in Sri Lanka. Professor McWhorter in his turn stated that linguistic diversity of the world is important for our societies and nowadays it is in danger. He points out that we have about twenty big majority languages that can eat up small minority ones. Consequently in the next century there will be not 7000 spoken languages, but only 3000. To support the importance and benefit of linguistic diversity professor Boroditsky outlines that bilingual people may have better results in some cognitive processes than monolinguals. In addition to that bilinguals are less susceptible to Alzheimer and dementia.

It was interesting and new for me to find out a connection between the European Union and the Tower of Babel. I agree with Mr. Weber that European Union can be an example of our modern Tower of Babel. All members of the European Union have different official languages. Moreover, they have to spend a tremendous amount of money on all translations that make collaboration process very difficult. As you can see on the pictures the European parliament building resembles the Tower of Babel by its construction.

Dear readers, I would be interested to know your opinions on the following questions:

How can humankind overcome all possible costs of linguistic diversity and safe minority languages?

Do you agree that the European Union has some parallels with the Tower of Babel?

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Let’s not make the world speak the same language. Fight for diversity!

Diversity of languages is not some sort of a negative outcome of past mistakes, but rather it is a blessing for the humanity.


This episode of Freakonomics Radio talks about a “modern-day Tower of Babel” which refers to the problems we have due to the existence of a variety of languages. Linguistic diversity here is viewed through different lenses: as a curse and as a blessing.

Some important people, from professors of established institutions to a director of a respective school talked about this astonishing phenomenon. 7000 languages are reported to exist in present times, but some of the speakers expressed concern that by the next century half of these languages are going to be extinct. The main reason for that was said to be the English language, which hegemony is spreading like a wild fire. Is it a bad thing? Taking into account that there are tons of money spent on translation of documents into different languages we might conclude that financially it would be better to have one standard language common for all. Probably, this was a main reason for creating an artificial language Esperanto and it was a failure. Linguistic diversity, if not financially, but cognitively could be very useful. In this regard, the speakers in this podcast expressed opinion that speaking more than one language has certain benefits: delay Alzheimer, shape thinking, enhance memory etc. Although, these advantages are questionable I choose to believe it. Why not?

A lot of ideas were expressed in this podcast, mostly I heard how inconvenient the linguistic diversity is. Speaking the same language may help to eradicate certain problems, but every language is unique in its own way and there is no way we can choose one among many to be spoken by the whole world.

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Integration without humiliation?

The United States has been tarred from its very inception by the sin of racism.  Although progress has undoubtedly been made in reducing the injustices toward Black people , and expanding their rights, it seems that this progress has slowed down in the past few decades.  The great leap forward that was the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s has been followed by a long period of stagnation and even reversal of some of its most important achievements.

One such achievement – the desegregation of schools – or, rather, attempts to repeat this achievement today, is the subject of a two-part This American Life podcast series.  While it is impossible to argue with the authors of the programme that school integration is extremely beneficial and is indeed the way forward in building a more equitable and just society, there was something in the way they framed the issue that left me a bit uneasy about the whole thing.  And I am not sure how to resolve it.  But let me first briefly recap the podcast itself. Continue reading Integration without humiliation?

Life without words

Words Season 8, Episode 2 by Radiolab

If you somehow skipped Episode Words on Radiolab. Do find time in your busy schedule to listen to this interesting discussion. It is an amazing synthesis of life experiences of different people brought together to discuss what words mean and what it is to live without words. Although the creators seem to inform listeners (they present accurate information in a descriptive way), the podcast is not only informative, but enjoyable as well. It is difficult to tell what strikes most in this episode:  how the stories are presented, or the stories themselves, or speakers’ ideas regarding the meaning of language, or the combination of all three. Anyway, the conversation is not tied to any language theories and is easy to follow and to understand.

The conversation starts with an incredible story of Susan Schaller who, like many of us, never thought of how it feels to be born deaf and live in a world without words, until she met 27-year-old man and started to teach him first words in his life. This moving story, which she later compiled in a book, describes her understanding of how life changes once we realize that “everything has a name”. But let us leave this story on its own. It’s goal here to introduce question, “What is it that happens in human beings when we get symbols and we start trading symbols?” and the answer given is “thinking”. This idea sets the tone to the rest of the discussion.

Words are important for thinking, namely, for sharing thinking. The blog speakers report on how they arrived at understanding that. During recovering period after a stroke, Neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor explains her perceptions of life without language as “peace”.  As she began recognizing the words and names, she gradually started pulling them together into “stories”. She explains that language is a coded system for information exchange. For example, when the notion “I” labels with name “I”,  “’I’ness” becomes connected to other names, or to who ‘I’ is now, who ‘I’ was. It does not feel to be “I” anymore. Not diminishing the role of language for communication, she argues that by using language we become devoid of experiencing it. This is more clear on the example of Ann Senghasa, a  professor who spent 30 years understanding the language of 50 deaf children, who were not taught sign language. Put together, the children started creating a language from their own experience and eventually demonstrated more intelligence than older learners who were instructed in signs. Her central claim is that we build language to live in a community. James Shapiro, the Shakespeare Scholar, makes interesting contribution to the discussion. He enters the conversation explaining that Shakespeare created words for unnamed images and emotions that people had already experienced. He combined words different in meaning to label notions, which were easily understood by spectators and readers. Overall, the conversation explains that words are tools used to convey the concepts. Once we grasp them, we start connecting notions, then reflect on our understanding, and this what thinking is.

The idea of the role of language for communication and thinking, raised in the podcast, is not new. However, fueled by its examples of people using gestures, mimes and whole bodies to share experiences, for a second I imagined us, instead of using words or signs, acting out notions to communicate. What would our life be like? Would we be different? More creative? Less thoughtful may be? Of course, we can turn to the dawn of human evolution for the answer. Still… Use your imagination and share in comments on what you see.

P. S. The video is inspired by Words, radiolab


Should bad handwriting be judged?


The Freakonomics Radio podcast “Who needs handwriting?” discusses the role of handwriting in today’s digital era, proposes some arguments on whether it should be preserved or not, and forecasts and evaluates some possible consequences of its lost. However, after having listened to the podcast, the question that drew my attention the most was not the necessity of preserving handwriting, but the correctness of judging students by their handwriting.

One of the arguments made in favor of typewriting in the episode was about “handwriting effect”, or in other words, the studies that showed the positive correlation between good handwriting and higher test scores. By stating that people tend to connect penmanship with individuality and person’s ability to learn, Anna Trubek, one of the hosts of the show, argued that schools should deemphasize the role of penmanship in their curriculum. Paradoxically, Telegraph reports that students are losing marks in exams due to their deteriorated handwriting skills that resulted from their overreliance on technology, and implies the need to put more emphasis on handwriting.  Looking at the both sides, the question that emerges is if it is fair to ask students take handwritten exams when writing is becoming more personal and more and more papers are being submitted online.

As mentioned in “Who needs handwriting?”, nowadays, most of us write mainly for utilitarian purposes.  When we write we write for ourselves, not for the others.  We usually write to take notes, jot down useful ideas, or make a draft of our outlines. In all of those situations most of us (at least you’re a perfectionist) do not care about the neatness, legibility or aesthetic value of our handwriting as long as we are able to decipher it later. But not in written exams.  Because in written exams how you present your ideas seems to be more important than the ideas themselves.

As  makha09 wrote, in Kazakhstan students might be penalized for making their works less neat by making self-corrections.  But, in many cases, a decent piece of writing needs some self-correction. And it is not just about crossing out the wrong letters; you might want to add some more words or cross out and replace whole sentences or paragraphs while writing. I remember asking for an extra sheet of paper and rewriting my whole answer simply because I felt as my argument would sound more reasonable by adding several example sentences.  Now, imagine that your writing is completely illegible and rewriting would not help you…

Taken all these into consideration, do you think that students should be given extra time to transfer their answers to a new sheet of paper during exams, or should they type instead? But apparently you generate more ideas when you handwrite. So, what will be your solution? Or do you think that is not a problem at all?

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Does “Early Education” Come Way Too Late?

“Does “Early Education” Come Way Too Late?”, Season 5, Episode 42, August 5, 2016 @ 6:30pm by Freakonomics

The podcast conveys the important issue of educating child at home involving parents as  main educators. The title of the podcast questions the audience about early education period and gives opportunity to think about the terms of educating child. But it does not specify the environment and site, keeping a kind of mystery. A short description of the podcast raises several issues concerning the research studies done by a scholar (D. Suskind) and economists (P. Glewwe and A. Park). Further on, the podcast introduces the research studies and explains conclusions which I, being a parent myself, find them to be informative with a little persuasion in sense.

The podcast justifies the arguments with fruitful research evidences and facts which involved the case study in poor rural area, Gansu (China), high technology to record the details of parent – baby child communication at home.


The first issue the podcast addresses is supply and demand sides of acquisition in education. Educators (the supply side) are being well-prepared for giving the best knowledge at school in 3-4 hours a day. Parents, being an important educational resource for children in home environment, are non-actively involved in children’s education. Children (the demand side) are being struggling to perform better at school with parents’ weak help because illiterate parents have “less vocabulary and far less complex vocabulary”, i.e. make poor quality input of language.

The second thing the podcast strives to explain is that education starts from the infant ages. “When we talk about learning …, we think too much about cognitive skills and not too much about non-cognitive skills”. It means that emotional rapport and psychological approach should be taken into better consideration by educators and parents from early childhood.


It was interesting to listen to the podcast as it recollects that parent-child conversation is “highest perform of the language acquisition” and it is necessary to teach parents to communicate effectively with children in a critical period. I like the idea of the Parent Academy and 3T model (Tuning, Talking, Take Turns) for improving parent-child collaboration as well as saying “teacher-parent is the better mantra for education”.

In general, the podcast has impacted positively to my previous knowledge about parent involvement and warned me not to forget about non-cognitive approach in educating child. I would highly recommend to listen to this podcast as it brings the initial sense of educating children at home and understand that child’s academic success lies in good parent involvement, i.e. hard work and sacrifice from parents in early childhood. 


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Handwriting in the XXI century

If someone asks you to note something, do you reach out to a pencil and a paper, type it on your laptop or cellphone, or audio-record it and later use a special software to decode it?

The 49th episode of the 6th season on Freakonomics features the topic of handwriting and its place in the modern world. A guest speaker Anne Trubek, a former college instructor and the author of a book about handwriting in present days, strongly argues that teaching penmanship is a waste of time and is detrimental to children’s both cognitive and physical development. On the contrary, researchers from Princeton University debunk Trubek’s argument by presenting study-experiment results of the effectiveness of note taking using laptop or a piece of paper. Lastly, listeners are acquainted with a young entrepreneur who owns a pencil shop where ordinary, unique, vintage pencils and accessories are traded.
Mrs. Trubek is firm in her stance declaring that handwriting is useless skill in the XXI century when technology is rapidly intervening in all spheres of our lives. Observing her son during his struggle to learn handwriting encouraged her to write an article and a book about uselessness of the skill. She argues that currently schools put too much emphasis on teaching how to write and ignore the value of words and ideas in writing. Trubek also talks about history specifying that penmanship has been used for only about 110 years and it isn’t something innate in our culture. Moreover, she rejects the studies that prove benefits of writing by hand saying they are funded by interested groups. For me, reasons and evidence Trubek provides are not convincing because, firstly, she gives an example of only her child and doesn’t provide other evidence; secondly, she is suspicious about results of the studies by prominent researchers but doesn’t take into account that use of technology could also be promoted by big tech corporations such as Microsoft or Apple.
A research conducted at Princeton University proved positive effect of handwriting for students’ cognitive development and learning. The study involved two groups of students: those, who use laptops for notetaking and those, who use handwriting. After a sequence of lectures, students who took notes by hand reported better absorption of the material and remembered info for a longer period. One of the explanations to that could that while handwriting, before you jot something you need to decide what to write and what to omit because you don’t have a luxury of writing every word. Thus, you process the information and note only the most important facts and you remember it better. Whereas students with laptops typed verbatim notes without much concentration on the content. Consequently, both straight after the lecture and after some time had passed conventional note-takers showed better results. Personally, traditional method of writing appeals to me more too. When writing by hand, I feel stronger connection with my mind and I’m generally more productive.
In the end, host of the show introduced the owner of a one-of-a-kind pencil shop where anyone can purchase a pencil(s) of his/her dreams. Even though there is widely-spread view that pencils are not popular anymore, revenues of this humble shop prove opposite. This may indicate that old writing methods are still prevalent and likely to persist despite of opposition.