What we study

We explore the perceptual and cognitive basis of language learning. Our research focuses on infants acquiring their native language, as well as on children and adults learning their second (or third, fourth, etc.) language. Our research typically falls into one of the following themes:

The contexts of language learning

We investigate how the language learning is shaped by the "language environment" provided by parents, teachers, and other native speakers. Specific research topics might examine:

  • The kinds of language learning cues available when parents or teachers talk to their infants and children
  • How infants and children learn things like the sound patterns of words, or the phonetic structure of speech sounds
  • What language learning cues are available in naturalistic, face-to-face interactions between two adults, and how these cues help an adult language learner

With this research, we hope to optimize speech and language input to promote healthy language learning.

Language learning and auditory perception

When learning a language one must pay attention to how acoustic cues in speech are used, like the pitch, duration, and intensity of consonants, vowels, syllables, etc. We ask how this acoustic aspect of language learning affects our auditory perception, especially for things like speech or music. For example, we examine:

  • How our speech perception is influenced by learning different languages
  • Whether learning language also changes the way that we listen to non-speech sounds, like musical melody and rhythm

This research will help us understand what perceptual limitations might pose a challenge to language learners.

Links between speech perception and production

When you acquiring a new language, you must learn to produce fluent utterances, and also listen to speech patterns in words and sentences. We examine how these two phenomena are related. For example, we study:

  • How learning to produce speech sounds influences the perception of speech in adult learners of a language
  • How early speech-motor control, babbling, and speech production affects the perception of speech sounds in infants and young children.
This research will help us understand better how learning to speak and learning to listen are related.