Learning and Memory
So how is learning intertwined with our memories?
Memory is essential to all learning because it lets you store and retrieve the information that you learn. Memory is the record left by a learning process. For example, you learn a new language by studying it, but you then speak it by using your memory to retrieve the words that you learned!
We learn and remember, we think new thoughts, or we visualize new images, and we change throughout our lifetimes. Whenever our neural networks change as a result of new information being stored, our behavior also changes.
Our brains respond to the same experiences differently at different ages in our lives and especially during early development. So the same experience we have as an infant that effects our brain, might cause a different effect when we experience it in adolescence and beyond.
Prenatal events can influence our brain plasticity throughout life.
Prenatal experiences alter our brain organization. Potentially negative experiences (i.e. prenatal exposure to recreational drugs) and positive experiences (i.e. tactile stimulation of the mother's skin), can alter our gene expression or produce other effects on brain organization.
The brain of a newborn is constantly being flooded with information. Over the first few years of life the brain grows rapidly and as each neuron matures it sends out multiple branches (axons) which increases the number of synaptic contacts. As we get older the old connections are deleted in a process called "synaptic pruning". This means that the old memories that we no longer frequently use become weaker and weaker until they are pruned and eliminated. The memories and connections that we actively and most frequently use become strengthened and preserved.
Like in the movie Inside Out when Joy and Sadness find Bing Bong (Riley's old imaginary friend) who accidentally ends up in the Memory Dump: the place where old memories are discarded to make way for new ones (aka Synaptic Pruning at work). If we don't use a memory or something we've learned enough, our brain decides it's not important and gets rid of it to make room for new information.
How do we make memories?
There are different types of memory.
Memory is learning that has persisted over time. It is information that has been stored and that can be recalled
Memory can be accessed through three different ways:
This is why repetition and practice are essential for us to learn something new. Reading about something one time doesn't mean we know it and will remember it. We have to put in work to keep information in our long term memory so that we can actively call on the information we learned when ever we want!
What is code switching?
Code switching is the practice of switching the languages you use or the way you express yourself in conversations depending on your environment.
This is most popularly used in bilingual communities when someone switches between two languages, for example Spanglish- the combination of using Spanish and English words in a sentence. Code switching is also utilized to switch between dialects, registers, styles, tone of voice, slang, etc. It is essentially the ability to switch between professional language and "home" language.
The second most common use of code switching is by people who speak nonstandard or a dialectal English. For example, African American English (AAE) or Southern American English. Both of these English dialects have their own set of consistent grammatical rules that they follow. They have to learn to code-switch to a more standard form of English in a formal or academic setting.
WE ALL CODE SWITCH
Any time we switch the language we use to fit the audience we are talking to, we are code switching!
Smaller examples of code switching:
It is expected in schools and in professional settings that we already know how to use Standard American English and can code switch independently.
BUT we are first exposed to language before we even enter school! Toddlers learn language at home. At home we use a different, more casual language then we do at school or at work. Therefore, many toddlers are never exposed to Standard American English until they enter school. They have also never learned or had the need to code switch. Over time, some kids are able to learn to code switch independently, but this isn't always an easy task.
Academic settings often treat features of nonstandard dialects as if they are "errors". When children are using the language they learned in their homes and come to school to be told they are wrong, it makes no logical sense for them because they are correctly using the features of their home language.
When kids aren't taught early on how to code switch to Standard American English, it can cause a lot of problems in the academic setting. They have difficulty adapting to the grammatical rules, difficulty with reading literacy, anxiety, apprehension about participating in class and social situations, and trouble with other academic standards that are set for them.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
So teach your kids early on how to code switch! Explain that we use a different language at home and a different language at school. Teach them when to use their "home" speech and when to use their "school" speech while encouraging them to explore both! Code switching isn't a negative concept- it is a celebration of our different cultures and a natural occurrence. It is an effective way for all individuals to communicate across a variety of audiences.
Have fun exploring the fluidity of language!
Liz Molina M.S. CCC-SLP