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The Fourth Child Science Exchange Program in East Asia; "Language Development and Neuroscience: Research and Practice in East Asia"

The Fourth Child Science Exchange Program in East Asia was held at Ochanomizu University on September 11 (Fri), the day before the Sixth Annual Conference of the Japanese Society of Child Science. The conference was attended by scholars from not only China, but also from South Korea, which made it especially significant and a great success.

First, Dr. Hideaki Koizumi, Fellow and Executive at Hitachi, Ltd., delivered the keynote speech on "Second Language Acquisition of a Foreign Language and Neuroscience." This was followed by a special lecture entitled "Early Reading in the Kindergarten Curriculum" by Professor Jiaxiong Zhu, East China Normal University, Shanghai. Professor Jiang Yong and Professor Zhang Minghong, both of East China Normal University, gave reports on a "Survey on Cultural Conditions of Kindergarten Teachers in Shanghai" and "The Design and Practice of Early Reading Education in Chinese Kindergartens," respectively.

This was followed by a symposium, "The Influence of Socio-cultural Factors on Literacy Acquisition in Young Children: A Comparative Study of Japan, South Korea, and China." Professor Nobuko Uchida, Ochanomizu University, Professor Lee Ki Sook, Ewha Womans University, South Korea, and Professor Zhou Nianli, East China Normal University, presented research on the relation between language development in children and disciplinary styles in each of their countries. These disciplinary styles were categorized into three types. The first is based on shared experience, which emphasizes communication, enjoying and sharing the child's experience. The second is a coerced style which relies on an adult-centered, top-down discipline or the use of coercion. In the third type, child-raising is felt to be highly burdensome and characterized by two extremes, either anxiety or lack of discipline). All these findings were extremely interesting.

As the presentations at this East Asia Child Science Exchange Program will eventually be made available on the CRN website and as publications, I will not discuss them in detail here. Considering that Japan is now beginning to institute English-language education in elementary schools, I think that Dr. Koizumi's presentation is of special interest, so I will summarize my understanding of it and add my personal views.

Based on Noam Chomsky's linguistic theory, Professor Koizumi stated that there is a common hierarchy of grammar for all languages (universal grammar), and the differences in languages can be attributed to the various programs and switching as well as vocabulary. In one sense, it could be compared to behavior that requires the use of complex instruments. Being raised in an environment of one's native language means that the programs and switches of this language are formed and used when speaking, reading or writing. In order to be able to use a foreign language, we need to create a new language program and turn it on. Take the English sentence, "I want to buy a book on flowers at a bookshop," for example. When compared to the Japanese equivalent, the word order differs in six places, which means that the head position has been switched. Translation that uses this type of switching temporarily puts a great burden on the corresponding part of the brain. Following a conversation that requires processing this word order in milliseconds is very difficult. As a result, this seems to point to the necessity of creating a program to think in English. Research on second-language acquisition, however, is still insufficient and much remains to be done in the future.


Furthermore, pitch consists of perfect pitch and relative pitch, and in the course of evolution, human beings acquired relative pitch, which facilitated the evolution of language. To be sure, when we speak, our voices have pitch and rhythm that become incorporated into the meaning of language and play an important role in communication. The ability to understand your father's "Good morning" and your mother's "Good morning" as the same phrase is due to relative pitch. Relative pitch which allows human beings to detect relative differences may be more important than perfect pitch. Although perfect pitch tends to be given greater importance for some reason, it is an ability that insects and birds have, for example.

In international marriages where couples speak different languages to their child, the child comes to naturally master the languages through conversation with the parents and others in the environment. The fact that these children become bilingual naturally may provide a useful hint for foreign-language education of young children. In particular, we need to devise educational methods that skillfully incorporate play, given that dialogue during play is considered integral for language development. I would go so far as to say that it is sufficient to allow programs of language to work naturally and let the child naturally absorb the language spoken to him or her. And to do this, we will also need to clarify how these programs of language work from the viewpoint of neuroscience.

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