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 nice 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 attracts you most in this episode:  how the stories are presented, the stories themselves, 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 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 a 27-year-old man and started to teach him the first words in his life. This moving story, which she later extended to 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. Its goal here to pose a 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. Neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor describess her perceptions of life without language, during recovering period after a stroke, as “peace”, solely physical experience, not connected to memories. 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, feeling and actions we already experience.  Once we grasp them, we start connecting notions, then reflect on our understanding, exchange them within our communities; 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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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

My thesis topic “Teachers’ competencies in inclusive education at International School of Astana: concerns, challenges and recommendations”


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Choosing the topic of the thesis is not an easy task. I remember when our Vice Dean, Jason Sparks, said a joke about our theses that they would be as our second husbands, since we would fall asleep and wake up in the morning thinking about it. This is what I am feeling now and especially felt when I was choosing the thesis topic.  Being confused, I decided to consult with my colleague who had graduated master degree at NU. So, with the help of hers I decided to investigate teachers’ competencies in the sphere of inclusive education at the school I work now.

The research site has several students with special educational needs. One of them is my student who has an infantile cerebral palsy that does not allow him to write as quickly as other regular students and it usually inhibits the educational process. While collaborative planning with the teachers of his other subjects or with my co-teachers, I have realized that there is a limited knowledge about differentiating the instructions and using multiple means of representation, and more than that, some teachers feel pity towards students with the impairments and try to raise them the marks or, due to lack of knowledge, the student is remained without attention. However, one of the core values of teachers’ competence regarding inclusive education is “supporting all learners, promoting the academic and social learning of all learners” (Forlin, 2012, p.205). Concerning about the fact that teachers are probably not well prepared for inclusive education, the current paper is going to be very timely, especially for International School in Astana, as there is no particular research conducted. This study is significant for all teachers who teach students with special educational needs, as identifying problematic side, the ways of solving the problem can be identified and suggested. So, this study is going to evaluate and identify the concerns of teachers and provide possible recommendations to overtake them.

It is crucial to identify teachers’ personal assessment of their ability and practical challenges faced by them because it can affect the teachers’ performance and the progress of students with SEN in the classroom (Hammond & Ingalls, 2003; Sideridis & Chandler, 1996; Van Reusen, Shoho, & Barker, 2001). So, the raise of teachers’ awareness and preparedness in terms of inclusive pedagogy is essential in order to meet the needs of community and develop inclusive atmosphere in society, as teachers educate a new generation that build the future of Kazakhstan.


Forlin, C. (2012). Future directions for inclusive teacher education. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis group.

Hammond, H., & Ingalls, L. (2003). Teachers Attitudes toward Inclusion: Survey Results from Elementary School Teachers in Three Southwestern Rural School Districts. Rural Special Education Quarterley, 22(2), 24-30.

Sideridis, G. D., & Chandler, J. P. (1996). Comparison of attitudes of teachers of physical and musical education toward inclusion of children with disabilities. Psychological Reports, 78(3), 768-771.

Van Reusen, A. K., Shoho, A. R., & Barker, K. S. (2001). High School Teacher Attitudes toward Inclusion. The High School Journal, 84(2), 7-17.

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?

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.