How do language production and comprehension differentially affect language learning?
This is the main question that I am investigating during my PhD here at UW Madison with Maryellen MacDonald. We hypothesize that due to the nature of language production, learning about a given regularity will be different than in situations where people mostly comprehend but are not pushed to produce language.
We presented the initial results from this project at CUNY 2017, showing in an artificial language learning experiment that language production does in fact facilitate language learning compared to language comprehension. All materials from this talk (a video recording, the slides, and the full abstract), as well as all experimental materials needed to run this experiment and the data and analyses that this was based on is freely available in this project’s OSF archive. Our paper, titled “Production Practice during Language Learning Improves Comprehension” is published in the journal Psychological Science (manuscript on our own website, pdf on journal website, UW-Madison broader audience press release).
We are currently working on several follow-ups to this initial experiment. We are running a mixed comprehension-production training condition of the original experiment in order to investigate whether the learning benefit associated with production is incremental in nature (the learning benefit scales with the amount of production training) or provides a boost with diminishing returns (adding even a little language production practice to a comprehension-focused training increases performance disproportionally). Data from this follow-up will be presented in a talk at ISBPAC, May 2018, in Braunschweig, Germany (abstract). Additionally, we are designing a new experiment to test whether language production training improves generalization to new materials compared to comprehension training. Finally, in collaboration with Martin Zettersten, I am running a cross-situational word learning study to investigate whether feedback during learning is processed differently after comprehending than producing a new language.
What makes some words harder to learn than others in a second language?
Although some factors have been identified robustly based on small scale experimental studies, many relevant factors are difficult to study in such experiments due to the amount of data necessary to test them. With Bill Thompson, Joe Austerweil and Gary Lupyan, I am investigating this question in a large data set of users learning English as a second language through the Duolingo mobile app. In a regression analysis, we test and confirm the well-studied effect of cognate status on word learning accuracy. Furthermore, we find significant effects for both cross- linguistic semantic alignment and English semantic density, two novel predictors derived from large scale distributional models of lexical semantics. We also investigated several other psycholinguistically plausible word level predictors. A writeup of the current results from this project has been submitted as a 6 page pager to CogSci 2018. I am also giving an invited talk about this work as part of a round table on vocabulary learning at the Kaleidoscope conference here at UW-Madison in early March 2018 (more information & talk abstract here).
Do people fully understand information from accented speech?
Prior research on accented speech shows that listeners adapt to new accents fast, but also that there are differences in the way accented speech is processed. Teresa Turco is conducting a senior thesis under my supervision to investigate comprehension of accented speech in classroom-style spoken explanations. We test native English speakers, in order to see if there is a difference in how they perform on questions about passages heard in Mandarin Chinese accented English versus American accented English. We also test native speakers of Mandarin Chinese who study here at UW-Madison. We ask if they do better on American accented English (the standard accent they hear in their classes) or on Mandarin Chinese accented English (which matches their own production of English).
Does fluency in a second language make you more creative?
In Joe Austerweil’s lab, I co-supervise Kendra Lange’s senior thesis which investigates individual differences in creativity as related to semantic networks and bilingualism. Some previous research has shown evidence that bilinguals are more creative. There are several different theoretical accounts about creativity in bilinguals, ranging from semantic network based mechanisms to skepticism about the existence of a bilingual advantage. We examine existence as well as hypothesized semantic network difference based mechanisms for the relationship between bilingualism and creativity here by measuring creativity and fluency for monolinguals and bilinguals. The fluency measure allows us to analyze the structure of individuals’ semantic networks (average shortest path length, clustering coefficient, and modularity).
How do people learn multiple regularities?
I’ve investigated this question in several research projects while obtaining my master’s degree. During my honors research project (conducted at Indiana University Bloomington with Caitlin Fausey) I investigated how people learn about a visual regularity in the presence of a linguistic regularity. I found that only when the linguistic input was uninformative did people learn about the visual regularity. During my master’s project (conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics with Falk Huettig, Elisabeth Norcliffe and Caitlin Fausey) I investigated how people learn about a visual context regularity and a linguistic regularity at the same time, and I found that people are better at learning about linguistic regularities than visual regularities. Besides these projects of my own, I also worked for one year as a research assistant in the Magic Moments in Word Learning project (at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior with Atsuko Takashima, Iske Bakker and James McQueen). The study I worked on investigated the neural correlates of novel word learning in children before and after puberty.