Growing up bilingual in the United States is often associated with weaker academic outcomes, but on an array of strictly cognitive measures bilingual children meet or outperform their monolingual peers in early childhood and adolescence. My principal line of research uses student writing and experimental data to investigate the ways in which these (socio)cognitive advantages, particularly around theory of mind, social perspective taking, and executive function may extend into the classroom, where bilingual children's high-level experience managing tools for communication in everyday life could compensate for weaknesses in lexical and syntactic development in the language of schooling.
Educators place a high value on students' ability to articulate and defend an opinion they hold, as a criterion for effective participation in a democratic society — and recently developed curricula like Word Generation have shown that students benefit in a variety of ways from structured exposure to and engagement with discussion of contentious, topical issues. Together with Catherine Snow and other colleagues at HGSE, I focus on outcomes for English learners within this particular curriculum, with a view toward developing further supports to be implemented in US classrooms.
Bilingual individuals easily switch between their two languages, and although even bilingual children seem to act as if those two languages' rules and regularities were isolated from one another, psycholinguistic and developmental data suggest otherwise. Focusing on evidence from Spanish-English bilingualism, I have argued for an integrated picture of bilingual grammatical architecture, documenting both facilitatory and interfering effects of acquiring two languages simultaneously. I am currently extending this work in collaboration with colleagues at Peabody, exploring the cognitive underpinnings of language learning and management in older second-language learners.
The notion of a critical period is perhaps most commonly applied to language learning, but other cognitive domains are also susceptible to age-related exposure effects. One such domain with important implications for both theory and educational practice is mathematical cognition, particularly in the context of bilingualism, where children are often first exposed to number words and simple arithmetic in a language other than the one they will use for math in school. UA professor Firat Soylu's ELDEN Lab and my ECS Lab are in collaboration to explore this issue using behavioral and neuroimaging data.
Data that inform theories of first-language acquisition tend to be drawn from corpora of spontaneous child speech or, more commonly today, from elicitation tasks and other psycholinguistic experimental methods. Often the conclusions drawn from such experiments neglect to take into account the possibility that children have a conception of the tasks which is not shared by adults, or that extralinguistic cognitive factors could interfere with linguistic performance. The agreement study below allows addressing these possibilities explicitly by shifting the focus to task effects, grappling with the relationship between what we see children doing — the data — and the way we build our understanding of it — the theory — for the purpose of developing clear and applicable interpretations of cognition from early childhood through young adulthood.
The languages of the world realize subject-verb agreement in various ways, some of which are hypothesized to be harder to acquire than others. A diverse group of colleagues in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States is conducting a systematic investigation of this piece of morphosyntactic development, toward the goal of identifying the linguistic features that contribute to earlier or later mastery of agreement, which could in turn enrich our understanding of developmental disorders and possible interventions.