Don’t burn the child’s brain!

Bilingual neuroscientist stresses the importance of teaching children to think

Rodolfo Llinás


This is Rodolfo Llinás M.D., Ph.D.

Llinás is Professor of Neuroscience and Chairman of the department of Physiology & Neuroscience at the NYU School of Medicine.

He was born in Colombia in 1934 and now lives in the USA.

In a recent interview conducted in Spanish he was asked about the role of the brain in education, with specific reference to early years education.

His answer to that question may not solely have its basis in his studies of the brain. At the age of only four (but brimful of questions!) he went to live with his grandfather, also a neuroscientist, for a year. He describes that experience as extraordinary.

Now the transcript from the interview (in Spanish first, then translated into English).

Pregunta: ¿A qué edad es más importante en el cerebro la educación?
“La educación debe hacerse tan tempranamente como sea posible. A los niños hay que enseñarles a pensar, a que generen sus propias soluciones. Hay que enseñarles a que entiendan, pues el saber se pierde. ¿Acaso usted recuerda los afluentes del Caquetá? ¿Los estudió? Es inmensa la cantidad de cosas que aprendimos pero que no sabemos porque no tuvieron contexto. En la educación le queman a uno el cerebro. A los niños hay que enseñarles a pensar, es decir, enseñarles en contexto”

Question: At what age is education most important for the brain?
“Education should happen as early as possible. Children must be taught to think, to generate their own solutions. They must be taught to understand, because knowledge is lost. Do you remember the tributaries of the Caquetá [a river in Colombia]? Did you learn them? The amount of things we learned is vast but we do not remember because they had no context. In the current education system the brain is being burned. Children must be taught to think, that is, teaching in context”

Watch an interview in English with the man and you will be struck by the inquisitive nature of Rodolfo Llinás, now in his seventies.

For us at Speekee, teaching Spanish is not simply about getting students to memorise words and phrases. Sure enough, the language itself must be carefully chosen to reflect a child’s linguistic needs in real-life settings, and memorisation forms a part of the learning, but it’s more important to cultivate the learner’s ability to be flexible with the Spanish learned.

Meanwhile, if the student’s interest in Spanish is sufficiently piqued by the new language and the way it is presented to them, they will have their own desire to improve their Spanish skills.

Now that’s super cool!

Wouldn’t you say?!

See you next time,


Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee, where kids learn to speak Spanish together

Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…

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