Vocablet of the Day: Shed Light On

What makes someone intelligent?  The way scientists are trying to find out might surprise you.

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Researchers who want to know more about the nature of genius are looking to make clear or supply additional information on the subject by going to the source — the brain of one of the world’s most brilliant minds.

When Einstein died in 1955, scientists knew his brain was special, so it was dissected and preserved.  Modern-day scientists are using new knowledge and techniques to analyze the brain in their attempts to shed light on the nature of genius.

Do you think that the physical brain has an effect on intelligence?  How else could scientists shed light on this complicated subject?

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Vocablet of the Day: Predispose

Gossip can cause us to make judgments about people we don’t know, even in the most surprising ways.

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When you hear negative things about a person before you meet them, you’ve already been caused to more likely behave in a certain way toward them, but that’s not all.

Bad-mouthing someone behind their back might predispose your listener to think that person is ugly -- inside and out!

Spreading gossip is bad for many reasons, but a new study shows that it can do more harm than you might think.  Not only does gossip predispose us to think badly of someone’s personality before we know them, it can also make us think they are physically less attractive!

Imagine someone told you that your new coworker (who you hadn’t met yet) was mean and selfish.  When you meet him, you might be predisposed to think that he is uglier than you would have thought if you’d been told he was kind and generous.

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Vocablet of the Day: Teem

Life on Earth can thrive in the most surprising places, including on glaciers.

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These huge ice sheets look barren, but they're overflowing with life.

The smooth, white appearance of glaciers can make them seem completely lifeless, but look closer and you’ll find they become filled to overflowing with life.

Even in the harshest conditions on the planet, you can find places that teem with life.  Glaciers, huge sheets of ice near the north and south poles, have tiny ecosystems made of balls of moss that reveal these frozen landscapes to be teeming with life.

The teem-Glacier Mice Vocablet highlights one of the extreme environments on Earth that still manages to support life.

What other places on Earth look lifeless, but actually teem with microbes or other tiny organisms?

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Vocablet of the Day: Rover

Human beings can’t go to Mars just yet, but scientists at NASA did the next best thing — they sent in a robot to look around for us.

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Mars has a new Earthling inhabitant — a small remote-controlled research vehicle used for collecting samples, aptly named Curiosity.

The rover is the largest one anyone has ever sent to the moon, the size of a small car.  Along with the usual cameras, the rover also has experiments to carry out on the soil to look for traces of life.

The rover-Curiosity Landing Vocablet highlights one of NASA’s most recent achievements, and we can only wait and see what Curiosity discovers.

Did you watch the rover landing on Monday/Sunday (depending on time zone)? What do you think the rover might find on Mars?

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Language Matters: Learning Vocab from Hip-Hop

“While the mad skillz you learn in school may be nuthin’ but a grind, one researcher is giving hella props to hip-hop rhymes for helping boyz and girlz learn language big time.” (ABC News, 22 Dec 2011)

The more rap that kids and teens listen to, the more non-mainstream hip-hop words they know, according to a new study.

Sounds obvious, right?

The difference is that most vocabulary learning studies are done with infants and very young children, and this study is one of the few looking at how adolescents continue to learn language as they get older.

Two factors that probably spur this linguistic development are prevalent in hip-hop music: melody and rhyme.  Both make song lyrics — which can include new words as well as context clues to their meanings — easier to memorize.

The next step?  Intentionally placing new words in hip-hop songs and having experimental participants listen to them to see if they pick up the words and their meanings more quickly than by traditional studying.

It certainly sounds like more fun than staring at a vocabulary worksheet.

Flocabulary takes advantage of the memory-jogging qualities of beat and rhyme to create raps that teach vocab.  Check out their new beat about the Year in Rap 2011 for everything you need to know about the big news from last year.

Do you listen to hip-hop or rap music?  What words have you learned simply from listening to song lyrics?

Language Matters: Words for Thought

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

We think in words.

We tell ourselves what we want to hear, we talk ourselves out of (or into) things, we listen to that little voice in our heads that tells us what to do, we talk through an idea (or we think out loud), and we sometimes escape to hear ourselves think.

How many times have you grasped at an idea, knowing that you knew what you wanted to express but you couldn’t quite express it, so you grappled with your thoughts and muttered some related words to yourself until you finally hit upon that right word with a “Eureka!” moment and felt immense relief at having found the word that matched your meaning?

But what if you didn’t know that word?

How would you express that meaning?  More importantly, would you even be able to conceive of that concept if you had no word to associate it with?

Studies have shown that vocabulary size in children is associated with the ability to grasp new concepts and understand new information.  Kids with more word knowledge have an easier time thinking about unfamiliar subjects because they have more words to think with.

Words are like tools.  If all you have are nails, planks, and a hammer, you could build a rough shelter.  But if you want a big, elaborate house, you’re going to need more specialized tools.  Similarly, basic words can communicate basic concepts, but if you want to express full, complicated ideas, you’re going to need more sophisticated words.

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments!