terça-feira, 21 de dezembro de 2010

Keep your brain young: Read, Be bilingual, Drink Coffeeeeeeeee - By Krashen

Read, Be Bilingual, Drink Coffee

Stephen Krashen says there are three things you can do to stay young mentally and you can do all three at the same time.


Older people who read more do better on tests of mental ability. In fact they do a lot better. The standard test used to detect dementia is the MMSE, a short test of arithmetic, memory and spatial relations. A research team (Galluccia et al., 2009) found that older people (average age 84) who said they read novels and non-fiction averaged 27.3 on the MMSE, which is in the normal range (27-30). Those who said they only read newspapers averaged 26, which is just below normal. (20-26 = “some impairment,” but those who said

they did no reading averaged 21, well inside the “impaired” range) Smith (1996) reported that in general older people do not do as well as younger people on reading tests. But older (e.g. age 65 and older) who said they engage in a wide variety of types of reading, or genres (e.g. fiction, current affairs or history, religion, inspiration, science, social science) not only read better than their age-mates who read less widely, but read just as well as younger adults (age 19 to 24) who read just one type of reading material. Smith concludes that “ …extensive reading practice may help to ameliorate possible cognitive declines later in life” (p. 217).

A popular research design in dementia studies is to test older people who don’t have any signs of problems, and then retest them years later, comparing those who develop problems and those who don’t, called “prospective” studies. In one prospective study, Verghese (et al., 2003) reported that 68 percent of those who developed dementia five years after initial testing said they read books or newspapers frequently (at least several times per week), but 86 percent of those who did not were frequent readers, a significant difference. Geda and colleagues (2009) recently reported similar results.

One study found that older people (average age 80) were better than younger people (average age 19) on vocabulary and general knowledge, but statistical analysis revealed that age had nothing to do with the difference: The difference was entirely because the older people had read more (Stanovich, West and Harrison, 1995). In the same study, younger people did better on tests of logical thinking and “working memory.” More reading meant somewhat less decline in working memory but not in logical thinking.

Be Bilingual

Ellen Bialystok and her colleagues (2007) examined those already diagnosed with dementia. The bilinguals in their sample (those who used two languages on a daily basis since childhood) developed symptoms of dementia about four years later than the monolinguals (age 75.5, compared to 71.4).

Bialystok and colleagues (2004) also studied why bilingualism helps keep you mentally young. As people get older, they have more difficulty at solving problems that require ignoring irrelevant information and focusing just on important information. In other words, they are more easily distracted. (Now what did I come downstairs for?) Also, younger people are better at keeping information in their memories while solving a problem. Bialystok and associates found that older bilinguals show less of a decline with age than monolinguals in tasks that require keeping information in mind and ignoring distractors. Apparently, the regular use of two languages helps maintain this ability.

Note: Bialystok’s studies were with those who had been bilingual since youth and who used both languages regularly. We don’t yet know if language acquisition in later life has a positive effect on the brain.

Drink Coffee

Prospective studies show that coffee drinkers show less “cognitive decline” as they age: van Gelder (et al., 2007) found that all of their subjects (elderly men) got worse on the MMSE over ten years. But non-coffee drinkers declined more, averaging 2.6 points, while coffee drinkers in general declined 1.4 points. The group that did the best were those who drank three cups a day, declining only 0.6 points, a decline more than four times smaller than the decline experienced by non-drinkers.

Three more prospective studies found that those who developed Alzheimer’s or dementia were less likely to be regular coffee drinkers preceding the diagnosis. In one five year study, 71 percent who did not develop Alzheimer’s were coffee drinkers, and 57 percent of those who developed Alzheimer’s were (Lindsay et al., 2002), and in another five year study, 67 percent of those considered “cognitively impaired” drank coffee but 76 percent of those who did not were coffee drinkers (Tyas et al., 2001). The difference in this study was not statistically significant, probably because of the small sample size: Only 33 “impaired” subjects were included. Eskelinen (et al., 2009) reported similar results in a 21 year study: The lowest risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s was found in those who drank 3-5 cups per day.

In a retrospective study, one looking back in time, Maia and de Mendonca (2002) reported that Alzheimer’s sufferers consumed an average of between 75 mg of caffeine per day in the 20 years preceding diagnosis. Control subjects, similar subjects without Alzheimer’s, consumed an average of about 200 mg per day.

Note: The average cup of coffee has between 80 and 175 mg of

caffeine. A Starbucks tall coffee (12 oz.) has 260 mg.

Studies with mice (Arendash et al., 2009) suggest that caffeine might be able to reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Researchers included the equivalent of 500 mg of caffeine (five cups of coffee) in the drinking water of 18-19 month old mice (equivalent to 70 years old in a human) that had been genetically altered to develop memory problems similar to Alzheimer’s as they aged. After two months, the caffeinated mice performed as well as normal mice on tests of memory and thinking. Similar memory-challenged mice who drank plain water did not show any improvement. Also, the caffeinated mice had lower levels of the protein linked to Alzheimer’s (beta amyloid) in both their blood and brains (Cao et al., 2009). Apple juice may also have this effect (Chan and Shea, 2009).

The research, however, provides no evidence that caffeine improved the memory of normal mice, even if administered from youth through old age. The effect, so far, appears to be specific to dementia. Coffee, in other words, keeps you normal but won’t make you super-normal.

There is considerable agreement as to the optimal dose of coffee. van Gelder (et al.) reported that the optimal dose to slow cognitive loss was three cups a day (more or less was less effective), and Eskelinen (et al.) report that three to five cups per day was associated with the lowest risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The dose given to mice was about five cups a day (but experimenters did not study the effect of lower doses).

How about all three together?

We need to know the effect of combining all three, reading, bilingualism and coffee. Note that it is easy to do them at the same time: Hang out at Starbucks (drink about three regular cups of coffee a day, according to the studies cited), and read a book in another language.

I would be happy to volunteer as a subject in such a study. Maybe the experimenters will pay for my coffee.

Stephen Krashen is Professor Emeritus at the Rossier School of Education, USC, Los Angeles, Calif

After reading this information I have a suggestion: Go to a Systemic school, grab a book at the library, and get a cup of coffee!!!

segunda-feira, 18 de outubro de 2010

Happy Teacher's Day!!



You have the ability to bond with your students, to understand and resonate with their feelings and emotions. To communicate on their level. To be compassionate with them when they are down and to celebrate with them when they are up.

Positive Mental Attitude

You are able to think more on the positive and a little less on the negative. To keep a smile on your face when things get tough. To see the bright side of things. To seek to find the positives in every negative situation. To be philosophical.

Open to Change

You are able to acknowledge that the only real constant in life is change. You know there is a place for tradition but there is also a place for new ways, new ideas, new systems, and new approaches. You don't put obstacles in your way by being blinkered and are always open and willing to listen to others' ideas.

Role Model

You are the window through which many young people will see their future. Be a fine role model.


You are able to motivate your students by using creative and inspirational methods of teaching. You are different in your approach and that makes you stand out from the crowd. Hence the reason why students enjoy your classes and seek you out for new ideas.

Sense of Humour

You know that a great sense of humour reduces barriers and lightens the atmosphere especially during heavy periods. An ability to make your students laugh will carry you far and gain you more respect. It also increases your popularity.

Presentation Skills

You know that your students are visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners. You are adept at creating presentation styles for all three. Your body language is your main communicator and you keep it positive at all times. Like a great orator you are passionate when you speak. But at the same time you know that discussion and not lecturing stimulates greater feedback.


You know that the aggression, negative attitudes and behaviours that you see in some of your students have a root cause. You know that they are really scared young people who have come through some bad experiences in life. This keeps you calm and in control of you, of them and the situation. You are good at helping your students de-stress.

terça-feira, 28 de setembro de 2010

Systemic na Folha de São Paulo

1. Folha de S.Paulo - Escolas tradicionais se tornam bilíngues - 26/09/2010

... educação bilíngue a 168 alunos do infantil e do fundamental. No total, a escola tem 1.456 alunos. SYSTEMIC. Fundado em 1959, o colégio Friburgo/Casinha Pequenina (Granja Julieta) adotou neste ano o Systemic Bilingual. Criado pelas irmãs alagoanas Vanessa e Fátima Tenório, o ...


quarta-feira, 22 de setembro de 2010


In order to start in a very clear way, let’s highlight the difference(s) between learning and acquiring a second language according to Krashen. Learning is a formal process, a conscious study in which students accumulate information and transform it into knowledge due to intellectual effort. On the other hand, acquiring has to do with natural exposure, developing aptitudes through natural, unconscious and intuitive assimilation. This way, acquiring is much more related to children than learning, once proficiency is not linked to the knowledge we have internalized, it is so to the abilities we develop in practice in consequence of the concrete experiences he have.

In fact, Second Language Acquisition (SLA) is the kind of object that is related to many others and because of this I do not have complete domain about it. To be sincere, even the oldest researches and researchers are not a hundred per cent sure about this process once it is related to human beings and it is in constant modifications.

Even though, the references to be read have been developed in a way that the evolution of the researches are clearly showed. There was a time in which people believed that the difficulties facing second language acquisition were imposed by the first language. It was assumed that where there were differences between L1 and L2, the learner’s L1 knowledge would interfere in the L2, and in the cases of similarities both languages would help learning the other.

Nowadays it is clear that the differences and similarities can not be seen in a so reduced way. Learners can transfer from a language to another in order to increase vocabulary, grammar constructions and spontaneous speaking even when these connections lead them to errors.

That is why we may not consider the errors of L2 are not predominantly result of L1 interference, due to the contribution of the mother tongue. By the borrowings learners do from a language to the other they improve their performances and might consider some rules and structures they build consciously or unconsciously.

A second language acquisition is not a uniform or predictable phenomenon. There is no single way in which learners acquire knowledge of a second language once it is a product of many factors.

These factors are all about the learner and also their learning, a universe full of complexity and diversity. Considering that a second language is learnt after the mother tongue, researches show that decodifying a language follows the same process for L1 and L2. In fact, SLA refers to all the aspects of language that the learner needs to master and for this, there is a natural route which is understood to be universal because they have a fixed order to learn grammar, for example. However, the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH) assumed that learner with different mother tongues would learn a second language in a different way.

This universal way of learning challenges CAH because researches show that children learn their mother tongue in a very predictable route, and as the negative transfer is not the major factor in SLA, it is not so unreasonable to consider that learning / acquiring a second language follows a natural sequence of development – which is known as the L2 = L1 hypothesis.

And analyzing adults and children is very easy to see that the ways they use to get the same end are not the same, obviously. But discussing the five factors that influence learning would be a theme for a very long research, they are: age, aptitude, style, motivation (and the socioalffective filter) and personality. For instance, it is enough to think about not only them – as relevant aspects to the level of success in language learning – but also about all the environment that can be given to learners in order to optimize their acquisition. These points would be a great framework to keep investigating SLA.

Lígia de Souza Leite - Systemic Bilingual teacher and coordinator at Lapis de Cor in English in Natal - RN

ELLIS, R. Understanding second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995.

sexta-feira, 10 de setembro de 2010

What does a synapse have to do with education?

The Synapse

Neurons have specialized projections called dendrites and axons. Dendrites bring information to the cell body and axons take information away from the cell body.

Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a synapse. The synapse contains a small gap separating neurons. The synapse consists of:

1.  a presynaptic ending that contains neurotransmitters, mitochondria and other cell organelles

2.  a postsynaptic ending that contains receptor sites for neurotransmitters

3.  a synaptic cleft or space between the presynaptic and postsynaptic endings.

Electrical Trigger for Neurotransmission

For communication between neurons to occur, an electrical impulse must travel down an axon to the synaptic terminal.


Neurotransmitter Mobilization and Release

At the synaptic terminal (the presynaptic ending), an electrical impulse will trigger the migration of vesicles (the red dots in the figure to the left) containing neurotransmitters toward the presynaptic membrane. The vesicle membrane will fuse with the presynaptic membrane releasing the neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft. Until recently, it was thought that a neuron produced and released only one type of neurotransmitter. This was called "Dale's Law." However, there is now evidence that neurons can contain and release more than one kind of neurotransmitter.

What does this have to do with Language Acquisition?

At birth, human brains and chimpanzee brains are about the same size. The chimp's brain expands about 28% by adulthood, while a human brain expands 300%.

This means that most of our brain develops after birth and is influenced by the environment. Almost all the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain are formed before birth, but until age one there are rapid increases in the overall size of the brain, and of the grey matter, where the synapses needed for higher mental function are found.

A two year old child has 50% more synapses than an adult, and brain metabolic activity peaks at age four. The eccentric manner in which brain development occurs is totally unlike the way that computer programs are developed. The multitude of extra pathways in the child's brain may either be used and therefore reinforced, or may atrophy and disappear due to disuse. That's why synapses wither and metabolic rate slows inexorably as we approach adulthood.


These changes probably correlate with the child's amazing ability to absorb languages, and with the difficulty we have with new languages as we get older. Children's brains also have more plasticity and redundancy than adults’ brains, so they can master both language itself and a perfect accent, and even if brain damage occurs, can relearn far more than an adult would.

What are we doing to exercise our children's brain? A topic for the next post!


sexta-feira, 3 de setembro de 2010

What is CBTEFL?


Using content – school subjects - to teach a foreign language or using a foreign language to teach content? At first glance, the order of the factors may seem not to influence the meaning of the phrase. Actually it might indicate the main aim of a content-based program. Depending on the institution that adopts the program, the main aim is one and the other is an additional gain. In a primary school where science, for example, is only taught in English by the content teacher, it seems reasonable to say that the main aim of the program is the content. The language is an additional gain.

In the case of Systemic, content is used to teach English as a Foreign Language. Thus, because the main aim of the program is having students learn the language; the content is the additional gain since it reinforces what children learn in their L1 classes at school. Moreover, it is the use of content that makes the learning of English more effective, purposeful, and meaningful. Despite the number of acronyms to describe a content-based approach, CBI, CLIL, EMI, to name a few, we feel the need to propose a new one which we believe would describe the particular way we integrate content and language:

CBTEFL – Content-Based Teaching of English as a Foreign Language.

quinta-feira, 2 de setembro de 2010

Inglês através de disciplinas escolares

O Systemic é um método de ensino para crianças de 03 a 12 anos em que os alunos “adquirem” a língua inglesa através de conteúdos escolares dentro da Matemática, Ciências, Estudos Sociais, Artes, História, Geografia, Educação Física e também extracurriculares como culinária, dentre outras. O SYSTEMIC foi desenvolvido ao longo de vários anos, após observações em salas de aula “autênticas” nos Estados Unidos e Inglaterra e levando em consideração os interesses de crianças brasileiras que estudam uma língua estrangeira. Alunos dessa faixa etária têm grande interesse nesses assuntos especialmente quando abordados da maneira inteligente, criativa e lúdica com que o SYSTEMIC os aborda. O fato das crianças dominarem a maior parte dessas disciplinas na língua mãe facilita a compreensão da língua inglesa, levando-as à sua aquisição. A comunicação entre aluno e professor dá-se da forma mais autêntica possível, sendo utilizada uma linguagem que faz sentido para as crianças. A língua inglesa só é vista como objeto de análise no momento em que as crianças estão aptas a isso e quando há necessidade (basicamente entre 11 e 12 anos). Outros pontos como construção e fortalecimento da confiança, desenvolvimento social e cultural também são contemplados pela metodologia.

O SYSTEMIC tem como base a abordagem denominada Content Based Instruction (CBI), amplamente utilizada para ensinar inglês a estrangeiros que frequentam escolas regulares nos Estados Unidos da América. Na Europa, esse tipo de abordagem é conhecida como Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), que está em franca expansão tanto na própria Europa quanto na Ásia. No Brasil, utiliza-se o CBTEFL (Content Based Teaching of English as a Foreign Language), uma modalidade de ensino por meio de conteúdo que complementa ou reforça o ensino regular das disciplinas.

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