Reading in different languages is good for the brain

– Young learners who read literature in foreign languages develop greater mental flexibility, according to Professor Janice Mary Bland.

​Janice Bland is the editor and co-author of several textbooks and edited volumes of English language teaching for children and teenagers. 

Bland prepares student teachers at Nord University to teach English to children and adolescents.

– English is a lingua franca, and I research ideal ways of teaching English to young learners and teenagers, Bland says.

Janice Bland is a native English speaker and a UK citizen who also is fluent in German. She has previously lectured at the University of Münster, Germany.

Staying focused: - Reading books with text and images helps children and teenagers develop focused thinking processes, says Professor Janice Bland (photo: Per Jarl Elle)

"Deep reading" is a prerequisite for "deep learning" and supports the intellectual, emotional, ethical and social development of children and adolescents. New research shows that "deep reading" influences how the brain develops, according to Bland.

Reading books increases mental balance

Reading text on paper involves different mental processes than reading on screens: Reading on paper strengthens our ability to be attentive and concentrate on a single object for a prolonged time, whereas floating images on a screen do not, Bland maintains.

– Screen media stimulate hyper attention in the brain, which we need when we are in danger, but juggling our cognitive resources in front of the computer screen fragments our attention. We can compensate for this and achieve a balance through reading books, Bland says.

– What about text reading on mobile, PC and tablet?

– I would say that all reading is useful, though there is evidence that constantly switching between tasks on digital devices can decrease our ability to focus on a single task. Being able to focus is an asset for work that requires concentration and deep thinking, says Bland.

Norwegian children know more words, but German children discuss more

Bland compares teaching English as a second language in German and Norwegian schools.

– The knowledge base of children’s literature in English is low in German schools. As such, German schools are similar to Norwegian, Bland says.

According to Bland, Norwegian students seem to have a wider English vocabulary compared to German students. However, German students are more used to discussing different topics and issues (in English).

– German schools expect their students to be able to talk about global issues and contemporary topics in the English class, Bland says.

Bland is not concerned that English could replace the Norwegian language:

– Languages and cultures enrich each other, so speaking and reading in different languages should be highly valued in the classroom, the school community, and in society.

She believes that in many countries today students grow up with an "intercultural citizenship", and that children and young people should be encouraged to read literature in their native language – as well as in English as often as possible.

– The pupils learn critical literacy and increase their knowledge of the world through reading literature in a language other than their own, Bland says.

According to Blant, limited access to English-language literature is a problem.

– This applies especially to English-language children's literature, which pupils can love and learn from, and develop empathy with, she says.

Janice Bland's academic interests include teacher education in ELT (English Language Teaching), creative writing, children's literature, critical literacy and global issues, intercultural learning and drama. Her studies include Children's Literature and Learner Empowerment: Children and Teenagers in English Language Education (2013), Teaching English to Young Learners (2015) and Using Literature in English Language Education: Challenging Reading for 8-18 Year Olds (2018), all published by the international publisher Bloomsbury Academic. Bland edits the (open access) journal Children's Literature in English Language Education (CLELEjournal).