Alexis Black and Masaki Noguchi are at BU (without me)

Alexis Black is presenting a study from her dissertation work at BUCLD on Saturday November 5th. The talk is entitled “The impact of phonological knowledge on statistical learning”.

Abstract: Current theories suggest that statistical learning is fundamental to language acquisition; much about the mechanisms underlying this capacity, however, remain unknown. Across 5 experiments we exposed 120 adult participants to an artificial language composed of either native or non-native phonemes for 2-8 minutes. We hypothesized that making the sounds more difficult to perceive and encode would alter the trajectory of the statistical learning process. Participants exposed to non-native sounds failed to distinguish words from part-words until familiarized to 4 times as much stimuli as required for native-language sounds. Learners were sensitive, however, to the difference between familiar and completely novel 3-syllable combinations after only 2 minutes of exposure. After 4 minutes of exposure, this strengthened to include a novel syllable combination at either the beginning or end of the word. These results have implications for thinking about infant learners who are in the process of acquiring their native sound inventory.

And Masaki Noguchi has a poster, also on Saturday. “Learning of talker-specific phonemic contrasts by adults”


“Adult learners’ (non-)acquisition of speaker-specific variation” C Hudson Kam’s poster at Variation in Language Acquisition 2014

I will be presenting the poster “Adult learners’ (non-)acquisition of speaker-specific variation” at the second meeting of Variation in Language Acquisition. The meeting’s taking place in Grenoble, France, December 3-5, 2014. (I’m posting this from the airport after being rebooked once due to a pilot strike, so let’s hope I’ll be presenting the poster.)

BU Poster: Learning phonetic categories with phonotactics: the influence of predictability and phonetic naturalness

The lab is back at BUCLD! The conference, as always, looks really great, and I (Carla) am sorry to have to miss it. But PhD student Masaki Noguchi will be there presenting our poster entitled “Learning phonetic categories with phonotactics: the influence of predictability and phonetic naturalness” during the Friday Poster session. The attended session is Friday, November 7, at 3 pm. Pop by the poster to hear about his dissertation research. Or you can always email us for a copy.

2 Posters at LabPhon 14

It’s a busy week for the Language and Learning Lab. In addition to the paper that just came out, we have some ongoing work being presented at LabPhon 14 in Tokyo. The first is on Friday, July 25, in Poster Session 1. It’s P1-11 “Learning sound categories with phonotactics” by M. Noguchi and C. Hudson Kam. The second is on Sunday, July 27, in Poster Session 3. It’s P3-28 “Phonotactic learning and its interaction with speech segmentation” by A. Black and M. Noguchi. Phd student Masaki Noguchi is presenting both of them. Stop by and check them out if you’re there. If not, just email for a copy.

Fuzzy memories? Developmental differences in the stability of statistically-extracted representations – Poster by Alexis Black, Janet Werker, and Carla Hudson Kam at ISIS 2014

For those of you heading off to Berlin for ISIS 2014, check out poster 3-028 in Poster Session 10. It’s on Saturday from 3:30-5 pm. “Fuzzy memories? Developmental differences in the stability of statistically-extracted representations” is the title of the poster, featuring Alexis Black‘s dissertation work. It looks at developmental differences in statistical learning, comparing infants with adults, looking especially at the robustness of resulting knowledge. If you’re interested, check out the poster, or email her.

LabPhon14 schedule is out, and we’re in it!

The schedule for LabPhon14 in Tokyo is out, and the lab has two posters being presented there.

The first P1-11 Learning sound categories with phonotactics by Masaki Noguchi and Carla Hudson Kam on Friday July 23rd in Poster Session 1 (14:30-16:20).

The second is P3-29 Phonotactic learning and its interaction with speech segmentation by Alexis Black and Masaki Noguchi on Sunday July 27th in Poster Session 3 (13:10-15:00).

Here’s a link to the book of abstracts.

The Role and Function of Input in Language Acquisition – talk Carla Hudson Kam gave last week in the Faculty of Education Research Week 2014

Last week, I had the pleasure of giving a short talk to people in the Faculty of Education here at UBC as part of their Research Week 2014. I was part of a panel of Canada Research Chairs invited to speak to professors and students about my research. In particular, we were asked to focus on what our research had to say that was of relevance for teacher training and practice. It was a really interesting exercise for me, thinking about my work from a more practical perspective. I only had 15 minutes, so it had to be somewhat direct, and without much of the detail I would usually include in a talk. I decided to give them a whirlwind tour of my work I’ve been involved in, and linked studies together in rather non-traditional ways. Instead of linking work by specific research questions, I linked it by messages that were relevant to education/educators.

The title of the talk was “The Role and Function of Input in Language Acquisition”. It was not really a description of what I was going to tell them, rather, how I see all of my work being linked. It is the tie that binds all of my work together. I know that the various projects I have and continue to work on might seem scattered to an outside observer. To my mind, that is largely due to the way we write papers – self-contained units that outline a small question or issue. My work is linked by the theme that was the title of my talk. I then broke it down into three section, each of which contained a message for the educators. But really, these are things that I have learned, ways my thinking has changed, that I thought were worth sharing.

Each section had a question, and a take home message attached to it. The first set of findings I talked about were bound together by the question How do children (and adults) learn language? I get at this question by examining the relationship between input and output, with the idea that understanding the function from one to the other tells us something about the mechanisms, or the ‘how’. Here I talked about the work on the learning of variation, as well as a lot of work conducted by Amy Finn. The take home message here was that children are not just little adults, or adults missing some cognitive ‘piece’ or ability. While it may make sense to discuss them that way, if we want to understand learning, we have to understand that even in a system that is ‘missing’ some ability, the system will still function, just differently, and that that difference will not necessarily be a simple mapping to the abilities that the system does have available. Think of it more like a recipe with a replacement ingredient than a puzzle with a missing piece.

The second body of work (or bodies) was introduced by the question How do children learn about language? It is work directed at understanding the nature of the input itself/directly expanding how we might think about input. In the field of language acquisition we often think of input just in terms of the speech the child hears. But learning takes place in a rich communicative environment, and we need to consider that more carefully. Here, I made the point, rather counter-intuitively, that just because there is other input available (e.g., gesture) doesn’t mean it will be used. I also pointed out that context can actually impede learning at times. Here, I was referring mostly to the work by Tim Beyer on AAE-speaking children’s interpretation of SAE. We can’t just assume that providing extra information will help children – they may not be ready or able to use it. And even when they do, it may not be scaffolding acquisition in the ways we assume.

The third section of the talk was focused on the question of ‘How children learn from language?” There, I talked about some new work I am just starting to do (in collaboration with Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins over in Philosophy) on explanations and the development of explanatory preferences. There, the message was just that children make generalizations over the patterns they hear, including some very abstract ones, and that we should be mindful of this when talking to children. Or as I put it “we need to think more critically about the ways we talk about things, and how they can impact children’s generalizations about knowledge”.

Carla Hudson Kam talking at NIU on Apr 30: Input, ‘intake’, and the adult language learner

I’m visiting Northern Illinois University this week, as part of serving as a mentor in their PI Academy. I’ll be working with Karen Lichtman in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. I’m looking forward to the visit, and to being part of this really innovative program.

As part of my involvement, I’ll be giving a talk on some of my work. I’ve chosen to talk about work most related to Karen’s own (really interesting!) research program. Which means talking about work I’ve never talked about before (although thankfully, Amy Finn, the former student who did much of the work, has). It’s especially exciting to me because I’m bringing together work by 2 PhD students at 2 different universities, in addition to work done by 2 undergraduates, again, from both UC Berkeley and UBC. Given the way we write papers, things can appear as a bunch of unrelated projects, when really there is a very programmatic thread underlying them all, and it’s been fun to string that thread through the studies while working on the talk.

The talk is entitled “Input, ‘intake’, and the adult language learner”.

Here’s the abstract: Differences in outcomes between child and adult language learners have long been noted – in particular, the fact that people who start learning a language as children usually reach a higher level of proficiency in the language than those who start learning later in life. A variety of explanations for this discrepancy in outcomes have been proposed, ranging from differences in neural plasticity to differences in the levels of personal identification with the new and old cultures, most of which find some support in the data. One factor that has received relatively less attention is input differences, the idea that children and adults tend to get very different linguistic input. People have pointed out, for instance, that the context or environment in which adults versus children learn obviously will affect their input, which then has the potential to affect learning outcomes. But there is another aspect to input, namely, how learners engage with and process the input they receive, that can be described as affecting their intake, not just their input. These are things internal to the learner, like the nature and strength of prior knowledge and maturationally controlled cognitive/brain changes. In this talk, I will present data from several studies using miniature artificial language methods demonstrating how learning outcomes for adult learners are affected by their intake, and discuss how these intake effects are related to maturation and so age of acquisition.

Macaela MacWilliams presenting at MURC UBC

Macaela MacWilliams will be presenting a poster entitled “Input effect in the sensitive period for language acquisition” at the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC) here at UBC this upcoming Saturday, March 22, 2014.

It’s a project she worked on as part of her NSERC Undergraduate Research Award last summer. The basic idea behind the project is to see if we can improve adult L2 learning outcomes by manipulating their input such that they learn more like infants do – sound patterns first, meaning later. I don’t want to give away too many of the details, as we will likely be submitting this to our favorite acquisition conference soon…