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Linguistic diversity- bless or burden? (response to the podcast)

The episode of the podcast ‘Why don’t we speak the same language?’ is a discussion about the benefits and costs of linguistic diversity among several scholars in various fields like linguistics, economics, history and cognitive science. The discussion is elicited by the Bible story of Babel Tower to unfold the main idea as the diversity of language may cause confuse even conflict among different ethnic groups and impede the economic growth to some extent although there are still some benefits such as cognitive development and cultural interchange. The need to address this issue is to develop the knowledge of international language to bridge the mutual understanding and foster the international trade on one hand, and maintain the local languages to preserve the cultural diversities and encourage individual pluralism on the other hand.

The organization of the episode is well developed and logically consistent, at the beginning the answer to the title as ‘Why don’t we speak the same language?’ is given by the understanding of the nature of human language is changeable and the speaker gives some examples of the change of the sound and development of the word. Then they gradually come into the discussion of the both sides of this linguistic diversity if we as human must accept that our languages cannot simply be unified as one language for all.

On the negative side, the diversity has caused some issues such as misunderstanding between different ethnic groups and this even aggravated into serious conflicts and war. The argument is supported by the evidence of the linguistic war lasted for 26 years in Sri Lanka. The recent reconciliation of linguistic differences enables the society to alleviate the tension between local ethnic groups and promote the integration and stabilization. Further the argument of the cost of linguistic diversity is also given from economic perspective with the examples not only the paramount costs for language translation and learning but also the incidence of the trade between different linguistic groups will increase if they have common lingua franca.

Notwithstanding there are some burden because of linguistic diversity, we still have bless from this and this is explained from the cultural and cognitive perspectives. What is interesting here is that the influence of the language on the way we think is shown by the experiment of Indonesian monolingual speakers who react slower than English speaker in time counting exercises because there is less tense verb in their language while bilingual Indonesian speakers have reacted more fast than monolingual counterparts. Thus the arguments for supporting the linguistic diversity are solidified by vivid and interesting examples and these make the argument more persuasive and strong.

Generally, the episode has finally convinced me with the statement of the people of different ethnic groups should learn the world language to promote the internationalization; meanwhile the problem of losing local small languages needs our attention in order to preserve our cultural varieties. This is achieved by the logical development of arguments and each argument is supported by various evidences, and some of them are from opposite stances; this enables the argument to be strong and persuasive.


Dear professor…



Dear Professor,

I am very sorry about the lateness of my assignments. And my absences during the semester. I am graduating after this semester and I found myself swamped with a ton of work I was not expecting. All of this piled up with vet visits, caring for my new puppy, and other things getting in the way I lost a lot of my energy this semester. I’ve attached all the assignments in this email. And if there is anything else I can give you please let me know.

Thank you for a great semester and for understanding,

All the best,

This is a real e-mail to a real professor who teaches art history at a number of universities across New York City and is an author of the book titled “Dear Professor: A Chronicle of absences” and is a guest of the Teaching Matters podcast Episode 102: Stories of Students’ Apologies.

This book is a compilation of 200 hundred students’ emails explaining and apologizing for absences and the podcast is aimed at exploring the motivation behind publishing the book and lessons to be learned about the electronic way of communication with students and how it changed the nature of the teacher-student interaction.

There is no denying that digital age has had huge both positive and negative influence on teaching and learning; however, e-mails are rarely considered to be the factor as they blend in so nicely into our everyday communication. Professors and teachers are one of those categories of people who deal with e-mails every day. More often they receive e-mails from their students than they send them. Regarding the e-mails containing excuses for the absence, the author states that some of them are pragmatic, but most are aimed at getting sympathy or understanding. There are a lot of oversharing or details that professor would prefer not to know about, and there is as he puts it “a sense of entitlement” as if he was a private tutor that is available 24/7.

First, I had the impression that the professor is quite cynical towards the students and their problems as I was listening from a student’s perspective. As we as students do not really think about a professor as a human being and are occupied with what we have. However, as you listen to the podcast you get the sense that he actually is sympathetic and tries to read between the lines that maybe there is something there that is not written directly. He explains that those are “a portrait of the modern student body in the USA”. Those are real voices from real students who deal with real problems as commitment, entitlement, anxiety, exhaustion, insecurity, depression and a desperate need of individual attention.

It was then when I started thinking from a professor’s perspective, as it must be overwhelmingly difficult to deal with unexpected and serious situations when there is a need to decide upon the seriousness or truthfulness of the situation and react appropriately. In addition, how to find balance and not to be caught up in the routine of trying to be sympathetic in every situation and finding the way to secure a student good grade. As the author of the book puts it there is “a moral and ethical dilemma”.

One of the main statements that author wanted to make by publishing his book is that the nature of teacher-student rapport has changed due to the information-driven and rapid decision-making society. It has changed but not for the better. The emotional distance and easy access via e-mail somehow imply that the roles of teachers and students changed to “teachers as service providers or private tutors, and students appear as more customers”. I find this statement something that is difficult to disagree with. Unfortunately, the author does not offer a solution to this problem.

In sum, I would definitely recommend listening to the episode as it provided me with the insights about teacher-student online rapport and interaction. Even though it is not considered to be “a problem” in a Kazakhstani context I think that there is a great message* that we should listen closely to what students have to say as behind each voice there is a person.

*pun unintended


“I’m not the woman president of Harvard. I’m the president of Harvard.”


The Freakonomics Radio episode is the interview with the Harvard President Drew Gilpin FaustT. It is about her background information on her childhood memories, experience in studying at female educational institutions, experience as the scholar and the President of Harvard University and more interestingly, about her worldview based on life experience. Also the interviewer and the President Faust  discussed the endowment per student in Harvard and its distribution that could be intriguing for the audience.


Commencement at Harvard University; women wearing silk-screened feminist fist symbols. Photo credit: Harvard Libraries’ Research guides – Harvard University

The creators tried to inform the audience about the first woman Harvard President’s life, however they made links with the given information and persuaded to donate into  Freakonomics Radio. One of the creators  of the Freakonomics radio Stephen J. Dubner asked the interviewee many open-ended questions that revealed her to tell the life story. It seems to me that the interviewer had assumptions about President Faust’s feminist viewpoint, since he asked several questions about the effect of the all-female educational institutions. The next provocative moment of the interview is when Dubner found and read Faust’s letter when she was nine and said “You plainly had a very pronounced sense of segregation, be it male/female, black/white and so on”. However, Professor Faust spoke about hierarchical interaction with African-Americans and their influence on her, which triggered her to write about the Civil War. Aiming to continue the topic of feminism Dubner interested about the value of single-sex education and was satisfied to hear that this experience was quite critical for the President Faust. She found herself in life, observing different roles of women in the educational environment and could realize herself as a scholar.

As the listener I was influenced by the wordplay between the interlocutors. Their very professional and competent talk was concise and to the point. The interviewer’s purpose to get the story was achieved and the interviewee shared sincerely full information about her life. Although Dubner couldn’t realize Faust’s feministic attitude he could identify her self-analysis moments. I like the way how she thought about the token female appointment, saying that she was not a woman President of Harvard, but the President of Harvard and analyzed that her role sends a message and hope for other girls and women.  


It’s a pity that there are people who divide the world into two parts (woman and men). The sense of discrimination when one can not do something what others do make me feel  upset. Concerning my life, of course I also felt limitations of being a woman, especially in Kazakhstan. Parents in Kazakhstan treat girls differently comparing with boys, they say it’s a shame for girl to talk aloud, to fight and to argue. Later these women with the bouquet of complexes and understatements become insecure women who must raise self-confident children. What is it? The irony of life? It is unfair that women should earn the position when men are already counted. However, the situation is changing in positive way that women recognized as the human potential and play great role in the global arena. It is not the World of Men or Women anymore, it is the World of intelligent, diligent, creative people.

Overall, I would recommend my friends to listen this podcast and get the insightful inspirations.  I hope that nobody will ask a question “Who runs the World?” in the future. 

Freakonomics radio (2016) “The Harvard President Will See You Now”
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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.



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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The Harvard President will see you now!


The standard way of thinking about female in academia has it that women can’t make it to the top. Certainly, it boils down to the historical role of females where women were expected to do activities related to child-rearing and nursing. However, the episode of Freakonomics Radio with the first female President of Harvard University will prove you that this popular assumption does no longer fit the 21st century educational reality. In her interview to Freakonomics, Drew Faust discussed a wide range of issues starting from the highly divided society that she grew up in to the challenges she faced as a new Harvard President. However, even if Ms. Faust’s story can provide opportunities to uncover social problems of her time, the episode per se fails to meet the slogan of the podcast “exploring the hidden side of everything”.

The story of Drew Faust is quite insightful, as her life embodies many changes that were happening in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in a very male-dominated society, she has been taught to aspire to marriage and serve her husband in his ambitions from her earlier years. However, her education in Concord Academy (college preparatory school for girls then) and later in Bryn Mawr (an all-female college) set great examples of female power for her and induced her to demand gender equality.

In the same way, she was concerned about racial issues as she has extensively experienced interracial interaction despite the fact that she was from a very privileged background. Acknowledging these inequalities that arose from one’s gender/race identity, she wrote a letter to the President Eisenhower at the age of 9 asking him to support racial integration in schools. Quiet impressive, isn’t it (especially when you think of what you have accomplished by the age of 9)? I believe these elements of her childhood experiences were conducive to her becoming historian and writing a lot about slavery. She has devoted her next 25 years to teaching and researching activities at the UPenn before breaking into the Harvard university administration.

Surprisingly, once she was assigned as the President of Harvard University, there were people who accused her of being chosen merely because of her gender, even taking into account her substantial professional merits. Nevertheless, she believes her new position will allow females of diverse backgrounds to use their intellectual abilities much better now, empowering them to achieve their educational goals.

All things considered, the in-depth interview of Dubner with Drew Faust provides us with the detailed account of how her life experiences influenced to her becoming the President of Harvard. However, I didn’t see much of “exploring hidden side of everything” in the episode itself. Rather, it reminded me some of the talk shows I watch where host interviews successful people/celebrities and etc. about their lives. I think this interview could benefit more if Dubner asked Ms. Faust about any gender mainstreaming efforts that are already undertaken at Harvard University to fight for gender equality.

One way or another, I enjoyed listening to podcasts very much. Hopefully, I will try to do it more on my daily commute.

Photo credits to: http://xn—–6kccxsjjfrcdij0afnq9gwd.xn--p1ai/%D0%BC%D0%BF3/james-brawn_this-is-a-men-s-world-but-it-would-be-nothing-without-a-woman

Freakonomics radio “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really worth It?


In this Freakonomics radio “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really worth It?” Stephen Dubner listens to different people, including young learners and adults who explain their values and views on second language learning. In this podcast the creators try to inform and persuade listeners by sharing people’s ideas about the importance of learning a second language at schools and pre-kindergartens. The main idea of this episode is that learning a second language changes people’s brain.  As evidence people share their ideas about bilingual children who have a good memory, prosper in their life, and have a good psychological reaction.

The first episode is about  the young learners at Little Red School House who expresses their positive views on learning a second language by enumerating reasons such as finding a good job, having a good salary, and finally being smarter than those who don’t speak a second language. Another episode with Professor Boaz Keyser tells about some evidence that the foreign language is much less emotional than a native language. As an example he gives a word love and amour. These words identical in meaning but a native English speaker perceives a lot more from the English word rather than the French word in relation to its meaning. Therefore, in his opinion it demonstrates a psychological reaction to the emotional related words.  I think that this study makes sense because if I see a sign which says “Опасно” or “Dangerous”. I would say that I will be more frightened of a word “Опасно” because it is more familiar to me and I associate it with different situations.

Finally, the episode with Albert Saiz, an economist from MIT is about his research findings on the benefits of learning a language in relation to the income. He tells that bilingual graduates earn more that monolinguals. I think that it is true due to the fact that bilinguals have more opportunities to find a better job in different national and international companies.

In conclusion, it was rather easy and interesting to listen to this podcast due to the debate about the different views on learning a foreign language. In my opinion, this episode incorporates arguments, reasons, and evidences by sharing all the information which was listed above. The young learners as well as researchers managed to persuade the listeners about the advantages of learning a second language. I would say that learning a second language stretches our minds, develops our executive function, and helps us to learn a new culture.

How do you think is learning a second language worth it?

Is there such a thing as fate?

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“Is there such a thing as fate?” is the central question of Freakonomics “Fate and Fortune” episode . In this episode, the concept of fate is referred to as genetic predisposition and is discussed through the perspectives of a well-known psychologist Walter Mischel famous for his “The Marshmallow Test”, Malcolm Gradwell and his interpretation of giftedness and talent and Dr. Ian Lancashire as well as Dr. Kelvin Lim and Dr. Seguei Pachomov’s findings in text analysis.

The debate starts with Walter Mischel’ findings of the experiment conducted back in the 60-s that implies that a willpower test taken at an early age can predict individual’s success in the future. This example of success prediction is then challenged by Malcolm Gradwell and his statement that it is inappropriate to label children as gifted based on their performance at some certain age. To support his claim Gradwell refers to “The Mathew Effect” coined by Robert K. Merton, according to which a small initial difference will grow larger, simply due to the advantages that are offered to those with small initial difference. Another contribution to the discussion is made by two studies that by means of text analysis managed to find the signals of Alzheimer’s disease in Agatha Christie’s books and the signs of dementia in the old essays in the so-called Nun Study.

In my response to the discussion, I would like to address the nature-nurture debate held by Walter Mischel and Malcolm Gradwell. I believe both Walter Mischel and Malcolm Gradwell recognize the power of nature and nurture. The last three chapters of “The Marshmallow Test” Walter Mischel devoted to the strategies for improving willpower. Gradwell, in his turn, referring to the story of David and Goliath also acknowledged Goliath’s obvious advantage over David. Thus, I would suggest that although, there is such thing as genetic predisposition it cannot be synonymous to fate.

“A main lesson from modern science is that rather than being predestined by DNA and development in the uterus, the architecture of our brains is more malleable than had been imagined, and we can have an active hand in shaping our fates by how we live our lives” (Mischel, 2015, p. 273).

Yet, the question of what is more powerful, nature or nurture, remains untouched in this episode. Maybe you have some ideas on that? What could be the implications for the nature-nurture issue in education?

By the way, do you think it is just a coincidence that I have just finished reading Walter Mischel’s book “The Marshmallow Test” today and came across this episode in one of the links offered by Mr. Montgomery?


Mischel, W. (2015). The marshmallow test: Why self-control is the engine of success. New York, NY: Hatchette Book Group, Inc.



Age and foreign language learning

The importance of optimal age in acquiring foreign languages at school is discussed widely among researchers (Lambelet & Berthele, 2015).  Children are considered to be more capable in learning languages than adults, particularly, when they learn the languages on its natural settings and it has a long-term effect. There is a period when the human brain is most sensitive to acquire input and accept a certain language which is called “critical period” (Yule, 2010) and this term is often connected with the age factor. One of the most popular examples to demonstrate critical age is the case of a 13 year old girl, Genie, who was isolated from social communication by her father ” (Yule, 2010). This case has long been interpreted that after a certain period, human being is not able to develop the language (Lambelet &  Berthele  , 2015). As a result, the theory has been criticized due its insufficient findings on emotional, physical, and cognitive factors that affect the language development. According to Lambelet and  Berthele  (2015) the critical period is only a possible factor which affects the age, but other factors related to age discrepancy in language learning should be analyzed as well. In addition, according to Singleton (2003) and other scholars, various investigations on children’s linguistic development do not provide evidence that language competence is impossible after a particular age. However, it was stated that language learning takes place comparably slower in older age, equal to that of children who acquire their mother tongue under convenient conditions (p.7).  All these findings do not seem to provide enough evidence that human linguistic capacity is impossible after a certain period.

“Critical age” is discussed as the plausible impact in children’s acquiring languages, but due to the deficiency of research findings on other factors (emotional, physical, and cognitive factors) it cannot be considered as a good argument. Moreover, data above is less likely to provide reasons why human linguistic capacity cannot function appropriately after a particular age. So these findings suggest that human linguistic capacity is not limited to earlier ages, but can be developed throughout school time.


Lambelet, A. Berthele, R. (2015). Age and foreign language learning in school. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Singleton, D. (2003). Critical period or general age. In Garcia Mayo, M. & Lecumberri, M. (eds.), Age and the Aquisition of English as a Foreign language. Clevedon; Buffalo; Toronto; Sydney; Multilingual Matters, 3-22.

Yule, G. (2010). The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


What is the recipe of success at school?


Education is an important part of our life. Through good education, people can reach success and improve the quality of life. Getting knowledge usually starts from childhood even from birth. Moreover, most of the researchers confirm that knowledge which we get in childhood considerably influence our future by shaping our identity and intelligence. However, sometimes due to some circumstances people cannot get qualified education or guidelines in childhood or in preschool level. The episode of the podcast from Freakonomics radio discusses several studies devoted school and teaching reforms for increasing students’ levels of knowledge.  By listening to this podcasts I get a lot of interesting information and food for thought, therefore I will add some ideas about these issues.

The first guests in radio interview were researchers from Chicago. They conducted experiment in public school in poor areas of Chicago suburb by investigating parent impact on children’s’ achievements in school. During the experiment, they wanted to focus on parents’ training in order to increase children’s literacy level by organizing parents’ academy. During the experiment, they pay money for parents depending on the success of their children at school and their own in training. As the result, they saw good improvement in children’s school achievement. However, there was some racial discrepancy in the result. The researchers noticed that experiment worked good for Hispanic and white parents, while regarding afro American parents there were not change. In contrast, research conducted by another group about the influence of TV cartoon on children’s education found out those afro American children showed good results at school during the experiment.

One more research depicted in the podcast was about the influence of parents’ language competency on children’s literacy level in early childhood by Dana Suskind. Dana states that education starts not from the first day of school but the first day of birth, therefore, children’s language environment has a great impact on their level of literacy and success at school.

The most interesting research for me personally was about the impact of vision problem on school performance in China by Paul Glewwe and Albert Park. Researchers conducted a study in the poor province of China called Gansu. During the research they found out that 10 to 15 percent of the students at the school have the problem with vision, however, only 2% of them have eyeglasses. Thus, they do not see blackboard clearly. Then researchers gave them free eyeglasses and observe their performance over the year. After the experiment, there were some changes in performances of students.

Overall, one common thing for all researchers was that social economic background and parents’ level of education play a crucial role in their performance at school. Children’s future success in any field strongly depends on their parents, financial condition of the family, and environment. In our country, we also are witnessing the difference between children’s level of education from rural and urban areas. Such discrepancy is a big issue and may cause a gap in society since students from urban areas or high-income families are provided with better education and have more chances for bright future, whereas, rural area students or from socially vulnerable families cannot get the qualified education. I assume that one solution to this issue is to increase the quality of education at public school and provide with a motivation that facilitates the success in education. What do you think?  What solution can you propose for this problem?

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