New (old) paper by Morrison & Hudson Kam (2009): Phonological form influences memory for form-meaning mappings in adult second-language learners.

In a previous post I committed to doing blog posts on failed conditions. One reason behind this was to be part of the solution to the hidden data problem that exists in psychology, and by extension, cognitive science. But not all hidden data are failures to find a relationship, some hidden data come from studies that have never been written up, and may never be due to time constraints. (That is a whole other problem and one I’m not going to tackle here.) In an effort to get some of those data out too, I’ve decided to post papers that for one reason or another are unlikely to ever be published.

This is the first such post. It’s a paper that resulted in part from an undergraduate honors thesis by Jessica Morrison at UC Berkeley. The paper was written up in late 2008 early 2009. It was submitted somewhere (I can’t remember where). It was rejected, but we got comments that could have been useful for reworking the paper a bit before sending it off somewhere else. Jessica left academia, and despite plans to send the paper elsewhere, it was not my highest priority. So the paper languished and now the citations are out of date. I have faced the fact that I will always have other things on my plate that are higher priority than this paper. But I think it’s a neat little project, and someone out there might find it interesting or useful. So here it is. I haven’t done anything to the manuscript other than add a statement about copyright, and put the tables and figures into the text. So it’s not the prettiest document, but it is now available, which is something it wasn’t when it was just sitting on my hard drive. And hey, it’s also open access! Just click on the highlighted names after the title to get a copy of the paper.

Title: Phonological form influences memory for form-meaning mappings in adult second-language learners. Morrison & Hudson Kam (2009)

Abstract: This study asks whether phonological form affects adult second language learners’ ability to learn the meanings of novel words. Specifically, we ask whether hard-to-pronounce words, defined as having phones/phone combinations not present in the learner’s native language, are more difficult to learn meanings for, and further, if learnability differences are due to interference from production problems or more general representational difficulties. We exposed participants to easy- and hard-to pronounce novel word-novel object pairings and tested their memory for the pairings. Participants who had either repeated words aloud, performed subvocal repetition, or heard another learner’s attempts to repeat the words during exposure performed worse on hard-to-pronounce words when tested immediately after exposure. When tested the following day, all participants, regardless of exposure condition, showed the effect. In a follow-up experiment, participants who engaged in an articulatory suppression task during learning did not have more difficulty with hard-to-pronounce words, suggesting that differences cannot simply be due to interference. Rather, we suggest that more difficult phonological forms lead to weaker representations which are then more difficult to link up with meanings in memory.

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…