04/06/2011

Being Bilingual May Boost Your Brain Power

By GRETCHEN CUDA-KROEN, NPR

Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences/AP

At the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, nine-month-old infants listen to Mandarin Chinese in play sessions with native-speaking Mandarin speakers. Some psychologists say being bilingual may actually be good for children’s cognitive development.

In an interconnected world, speaking more than one language is becoming increasingly common. Approximately one-fifth of Americans speak a non-English language at home, and globally, as many as two-thirds of children are brought up bilingual.

Research suggests that the growing numbers of bilingual speakers may have an advantage that goes beyond communication: It turns out that being bilingual is also good for your brain.

Judy and Paul Szentkiralyi both grew up bilingual in the U.S., speaking Hungarian with their families and English with their peers. When they first started dating, they spoke English with each other.

But they knew they wanted to raise their children speaking both languages, so when things turned serious they did something unusual — they decided to switch to Hungarian.

Today, Hungarian is the primary language the Szentkiralyis use at home. Their two daughters — Hannah, 14, and Julia, 8 — speak both languages fluently, and without any accent. But they both heard only Hungarian from mom and dad until the age of 3 or 4, when they started school.

“When she did go to preschool that accent was very thick – she counted like Vun, two, tree,” said Judy Szentkiralyi, recalling Hanna’s early experience with English. “And by the time four or five months went by, it was totally gone.”

Dispelling Confusion Around Bilingualism

The Szentkiralyis say that most people were supportive, but not everyone. Paul recounts an uncomfortable confrontation Judy once had in the local grocery store.

“I remember one time you came home and you said this one lady was like, ‘When is she going to learn English?’ And it was like, ‘Well, when she goes to school she’ll learn English,'” he said.

For a bilingual who really has two good languages that they use, both of them are always active.

– Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist from York University in Toronto

“People would often say, ‘Well, won’t they get confused?” added Judy. “And I would have to explain, ‘Well, no, it wasn’t confusing for us.'”

The idea that children exposed to two languages from birth become confused or that they fall behind monolingual children is a common misconception, says Janet Werker, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who studies language acquisition in bilingual babies.

“Growing up bilingual is just as natural as growing up monolingual,” said Werker, whose own research indicates babies of bilingual mothers can distinguish between languages even hours after birth.

“There is absolutely no evidence that bilingual acquisition leads to confusion, and there is no evidence that bilingual acquisition leads to delay,” she said.

Werker and other researchers say the evidence to the contrary is actually quite strong. Instead of holding you back, being bilingual, they say, may actually be good for you.

Tuning In To The Right Signal

Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist from York University in Toronto, says the reason lies in the way the bilingual mind uses language.

“We don’t really know very much in psychology,” said Bialystok. “But the one thing that has been so overwhelmingly proven, that I can say with great certainty, is this: For a bilingual who really has two good languages that they use, both of them are always active.”

In other words, no matter what language a person is speaking at the moment, both languages are active in the brain.

“The evidence is very dramatic. Even if you are in a context that is utterly monolingual, where you think there is absolutely no reason to think about Chinese or Spanish or French, it is part of the activated network that’s going on in your brain,” she said.

This means that bilinguals have to do something that monolinguals don’t do — they have to keep the two languages separate. Bialystok likens it to tuning into the right signal on the radio or television: The brain has to keep the two channels separate and pay attention to only one.

“The brain has a perfectly good system whose job it is to do just that — it’s the executive control system. It focuses attention on what’s important and ignores distraction. Therefore, for a bilingual, the executive control system is used in every sentence you utter. That’s what makes it strong,” said Bialystok.

Remodeling The Brain?

Constantly engaging this executive control function is a form of mental exercise, explains Bialystok, and some researchers, including herself, believe that this can be beneficial for the brain. Bilingual speakers have been shown to perform better on a variety of cognitive tasks, and one study Bialistok did found that dementia set in four to five years later in people who spent their lives speaking two languages instead of one.

“They can get a little extra mileage from these cognitive networks because they have been enhanced throughout life,” said Bialystok.

And the advantages of bilingualism may be due to more than just “mental fitness.” Bialystok says there’s some preliminary evidence that being bilingual may physically remodel parts of the brain. It’s something researchers are only beginning to look into, but she says there is reason to believe that speaking a second language may lead to important changes in brain structure as well.

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04/06/2011

Pré-sal ganha destaque em ação republicana contra reeleição de Obama

Da Folha

O Comitê Nacional Republicano partiu para o ataque contra a precoce campanha à reeleição do presidente dos Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, anunciada nesta segunda-feira. Entre as “vítimas” da ofensiva, está o Brasil e o interesse de Obama pelo petróleo da camada do pré-sal, apontado como uma contradição com suas promessas de reduzir a dependência dos americanos em petróleo estrangeiro.

No vídeo abaixo postado no YouTube, Obama aparece em fotos com a presidente Dilma Roussef, em sua recente visita ao Brasil, e com o ex-presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (e a tradicional camisa da seleção brasileira).

“O petróleo que vocês recentemente descobriram na costa do Brasil […] nós queremos ser um de seus melhores clientes”, narra o próprio Obama, em frases retiradas de seu discurso ao lado de Dilma, em Brasília, em 19 de março. Na época, Obama disse ainda que os EUA vão compartilhar seu conhecimento e tecnologia com o Brasil para exploração dessas reservas.

As imagens são sobrepostas por um slogan de cores democratas com a frase “Obama pede bilhões para o petróleo brasileiro”, título de um vídeo da rede Foxnews, conhecida por sua linha editorial alinhada aos ideais republicanos.

Pouco antes, o narrador diz com ironia e sobre imagens de um brinde com taças de champanhe: “celebrando o fim da dependência em energia estrangeira”.

O comercial escolhe, contudo, ignorar a mais recente citação do Brasil no discurso de Obama no qual estabeleceu a meta de cortar em um terço a importação de petróleo nos próximos dez anos.

Nele, Obama citou o Brasil como um exemplo do uso de biocombustíveis. “Se alguém duvida do potencial desse combustível, veja o Brasil. Mais da metade, dos veículos no Brasil rodam com biocombustíveis”, mencionou Obama ao falar se segurança energética nos EUA.

Este tipo de propaganda agressiva é muito comum na campanha eleitoral americana, que não poupa edições tendenciosas, associações e ironia para mostrar ao eleitor os perigos de votar em um candidato.

Dilma Roussef cumprimenta Barack Obama, no Palácio; imagem é usada para apontar contradição do americano

Sem um nome claro para concorrer com Obama, os republicanos parecem dispostos a usar todo o armamento disponível.

Neste mesmo anúncio de um minuto, a lista de contradições apontadas inclui as declarações de Obama de que não descansará (estrategicamente ilustradas com imagens de suas férias) e reuniões com personalidades importantes (com imagens de seu encontro com artistas como o ex-Beatles Paul McCartney e os Jonas Brothers).

Obama é criticado ainda pela “revolução” do método de gastar mais para cortar o deficit orçamentário, antes de aparecer montado em um unicórnio e deixando um rastro em forma de arco-íris. “Mais quatro anos”, encerra o narrador, com certo tom de ameaça.

 

04/06/2011

Lula inicia nos EUA carreira de palestrante internacional

Por ANDREA MURTA, da Folha em Washington

Com um discurso sobre educação no Brasil em evento da Microsoft, o ex-presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva inaugura hoje em Washington uma série de palestras internacionais, que promete manter sua agenda cheia por um bom tempo.

Será sua primeira fala remunerada no exterior desde que deixou a Presidência.

Nos próximos dias, fará outras duas: na sexta-feira, em Acapulco, para a Associação dos Bancos do México; e na próxima semana, em Londres, para investidores em evento da Telefónica.

O valor da remuneração que ele vai receber pela palestra nos EUA não foi revelado, mas deve ser superior ao cachê previsto para o Brasil (em torno de R$ 200 mil).

Lula chegou à capital americana ontem, em avião emprestado pela Coteminas.

Pela manhã, se encontrou com o presidente do Banco Interamericano de Desenvolvimento (BID), Luis Alberto Moreno.

Os dois discutiram a possibilidade de ações comuns entre o órgão e o Instituto Lula. Um ponto de interesse é a aproximação do Brasil com a África.

O ex-presidente almoçou com o embaixador do Brasil em Washington, Mauro Vieira, e pretendia passar a tarde revisando o discurso de hoje e passeando –queria ver as cerejeiras locais.

Lula deve partir hoje mesmo para Acapulco e viajar para Londres na próxima terça. Na capital inglesa, além de fazer o discurso a investidores, o ex-presidente pretende se reunir com o historiador Eric Hobsbawm.

No fim de semana, Lula vai para a Espanha para receber o prêmio “Libertad Cortes de Cádiz”. Há uma preocupação nesta viagem –ele quer assistir ao jogo de futebol entre o Barcelona e o Real Madrid, mas ainda não sabe se haverá tempo.

Bem remunerado com as palestras, o ex-presidente não pretende receber recursos federais com duas de suas iniciativas _o Instituto Lula (que viverá de contribuições, inclusive do PT) e a empresa que gerencia suas palestras.

Um terceiro projeto, chamado de Memorial da Democracia, poderá vir a receber verba pública.

 

04/03/2011

Portugal, colônia do Brasil? Uma proposta

Por Patrícia Melo Franco, da Folha de São Paulo

O jornal inglês “Financial Times” saiu com uma proposta inusitada nesta semana: o Brasil deveria anexar Portugal, que se tornaria uma província brasileira, abandonando a União Europeia. O jornal não poupou críticas ao estado atual da nação portuguesa, mergulhada em dívidas, desemprego recorde e com um primeiro-ministro demissionário porque não conseguiu apoio para seu plano de austeridade.

Já o Brasil, antiga colônia portuguesa, cresceu humilhantes 7,5% ano passado e é mercado cobiçado e garantidor de resultados das multinacionais portuguesas como a Portugal Telecom. Enquanto Portugal o Brasil saiu da lista de devedores do Fundo em 2005, e hoje em dia é credor líquido internacional. Daí a ideia de inverter os papéis entre antigos metrópole-colônia.

A proposta do “FT”, obviamente, é uma piada.

Mas é fato que a presidente Dilma Rousseff foi recebida em Portugal nesta semana com ecos de sebastianismo. “Dilma veio com um discurso de parceria estratégica com Portugal, mas tudo o que os portugueses queriam era garantia de que o Brasil vai financiar a dívida portuguesa”, contou-me uma influente jornalista portuguesa. “Queríamos o Brasil salvando Portugal, a Dilma chegando com o cheque e investimentos.”

Portugal está tentando vender seus títulos até para o Timor. Mas, com o rebaixamento pelas agências de classificação de risco –estão a apenas dois degraus da nota ‘junk’– está difícil achar cliente. O país precisa de financiamento de € 21 bilhões entre abril e dezembro. A China, com US$ 3 trilhões de reservas internacionais, comprou apenas US$ 300 milhões de dívida pública portuguesa.

“Os discursos de Dilma e de Lula tiveram de incorporar a disponibilidade para ajudar Portugal na crise da dívida, embora, como se temia, além de palavras de circunstância e de vagas promessas, pouco de substancial tenha sobrado”, dizia o editorial de quinta-feira do jornal Público.

Quiçá os portugueses esperavam do Brasil a mesma generosidade que o caudilho Hugo Chávez demonstrou com a Argentina. Quando os portenhos eram párias absolutos no mercado internacional e o regime bolivariano estava no auge da riqueza dos petrodólares, Chávez foi era p único a financiar a dívida argentina, embora a taxas não muito camaradas.

Mas Dilma foi pragmática e não se comprometeu com nada. “No caso dos títulos, nós temos de cumprir os requisitos que dizem respeito ao uso das reservas do Brasil. Quais são os requisitos do banco central? Que sejam títulos triplo A”, disse. A Standard & Poor’s baixou a nota de risco de Portugal para BBB-. “A única alternativa é a possibilidade de comprar títulos que não são triplo A com garantia. Ou garantia real ou de algum ativo que supra essa deficiência”, completou Dilma.

Integrante da comitiva de Dilma em Portugal, o assessor internacional da presidência, Marco Aurélio Garcia, sublinhou que o Brasil precisa ser generoso com seus vizinhos, em entrevista a Assis Moreira, do Valor Econômico. Ele se referia à negociação das tarifas pagas aos paraguaios pela energia de Itaipu.

A ver se essa generosidade se estende aos países não vizinhos, mas historicamente irmãos.

 

04/01/2011

For Hedge Fund Investors, Brazil Is the Country of Now

BY AZAM AHMED, The New York Times

Cars at the port in Rio de Janeiro. Last year, Brazil's economy grew 7.5 percent, attracting the interest of hedge funds.
Antonio Scorza/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesCars at the port in Rio de Janeiro. Last year, Brazil’s economy grew 7.5 percent, attracting the interest of hedge funds.

Ten years ago, Goldman Sachs proclaimed that Brazil was among the new economic powerhouses. Now it is the next frontier for hedge funds.

Looking to capitalize on the fast-growing region, global hedge fund managers have started to descend on Brazil. The industry’s biggest players are wooing top talent, opening new offices and buying local firms — all part of a broader effort to expand their investment reach.

“Latin America suffered because it was always believed that ‘Brazil is the man of the future and always will be,’” said Marko Dimitrijevic, founder of Everest Capital, a Florida-based emerging market hedge fund that oversees $2 billion. “But it looks like the future is now.”

Late last year, JPMorgan Chase’s Highbridge Capital purchased a majority stake in Gávea Investimentos, a top Brazilian hedge fund. Brevan Howard, one of Europe’s largest hedge funds, recently set up shop in São Paulo. This week, the first Hedge Fund Brazil Forum, an industry conference held at the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, drew hundreds of attendees, including representatives from premier shops like Paulson & Company and SAC Capital Advisors.

In all, hedge fund assets devoted to the region rose 75 percent, to $21.4 billion, in 2010, according to data from Hedge Fund Research.

The strategy follows a well-worn playbook for hedge funds. Just as firms moved into Hong Kong to gain entry to the lucrative Chinese market a decade back, they are using Brazil as a beachhead for the rest of Latin America. The Hedge Fund Association planted an official industry flag on Wednesday, establishing a regional chapter with a local outpost in Brazil.

The appeal is obvious. While many developed countries have sputtered amid weak economic growth, Brazil has continued to thrive, given its rich reserve of natural resources and growing middle class. Last year, the country’s gross domestic product increased 7.5 percent — helping catapult Brazil ahead of Britain and France to become the fifth-largest economy in the world.

“In the past five years, about 34 million Brazilians entered the middle class,” said Oscar Decotelli, a partner at Vision Brazil Investments, a $2 billion alternative investment firm based in São Paulo. “This for a population of 200 million is significant. Brazil is not just a commodity story, but a very strong domestic story.”

Brazil may also benefit from a shifting emphasis in developing countries. Money has poured into China and the rest of region in recent years, prompting fears that the region is a bubble ready to burst. Asia, excluding Japan, accounts for half of hedge fund assets dedicated to emerging markets. By comparison, Latin America represents roughly 11 percent.

“People were a lot more bullish on Asian markets over the last two to three years because everything seemed to be going one way,” said Anurag Bhardwaj, head of strategic consulting at Barclays Capital, which is set to publish a survey on investor sentiment in April. “Investors are looking to other markets less correlated but with good fundamentals, and Brazil definitely falls into that category.”

Even so, the region faces headwinds. While Latin America has been relatively strong coming out of the global economic crisis, analysts are becoming increasingly concerned about inflation. The investment bank Goldman Sachs recently cut its growth forecasts for Brazil for 2011 and 2012.

Investors, too, are worried that the flood of new money piling into the market could eventually lead to diminished returns. Over the last five years, the MSCI Latin America index has gained an annualized 13 percent — the best performance of any emerging market region.

“What is the famous saying? If the taxi driver is talking about an investment, you know it’s time to sell,” said Mr. Decotelli of Vision Brazil.

But Mr. Decotelli says he thinks Brazil and the rest of the Latin America are still at the beginning of a growth story. The addition of large institutional players should help the market evolve, rather than hold it back.

“We’re still an industry very much dominated by local investors,” he said. “It is very important we are open to the international community. We will have better liquidity and diversification of strategies.”

As they explore this new territory, hedge funds are looking to well-connected executives with strong local ties. As in Asia, firms are tapping prominent names to lead their efforts, giving them much-needed political and business contacts in the country.

When Highbridge purchased a majority stake in Gávea last year for $6 billion, the deal came with the firm’s marquee founder, Arminio Fraga, the former president of the central bank of Brazil. Brevan Howard tapped Mario Mesquita, former deputy of the country’s central bank, to run its new research operations in Brazil.

A local presence serves two purposes. First, it allows for quick, on-the-ground research. That’s especially important as companies look increasingly beyond their borders for growth. In the first quarter of the year, deals aimed at Brazil amounted to $13.2 billion, a 370 percent increase over the comparable period in 2010, according to Thomson Reuters.

Second, hedge funds can better woo potential investors in the region, a newfound source of wealth. Last spring, Morgan Stanley opened a hedge fund office in São Paulo to service Latin American clients.

“Some people built too much too fast in Hong Kong, so as a general matter they are going to approach Brazil with more of a ‘Hey, let’s try this out’ rather than ‘Let’s put 16 people on the ground right away,’ ” said Daniel Hunter, a partner at the law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel. “All I can tell you is that there is definitely a desire in parts of the hedge fund space to find out what’s going on in Brazil and find out how to tap into it.”