B.E.E. Lab Spotlight!

Get to know members of our community and the role that bilingualism plays in their lives through the interviews below! Interviews will be added frequently, so stay tuned for more!

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Featuring: Lynneth Solis, Ed.D.  Lynneth photo

Q. Please tell us about yourself:

A. I'm a researcher at Project Zero and earned my doctoral degree in Human Development and Education at HGSE. http://www.pz.harvard.edu/who-we-are/people/lynneth-solis

Q. What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. As a developmental scientist, my work is interdisciplinary, spanning the disciplines of developmental psychology, cognitive science, and anthropology.

Q. Please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. I'm interested in investigating how children make meaning of the world around them through play, and at the same time, how the world around them shapes children's play.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. Yes, I consider myself bilingual. I was raised in a Mexican-American household in a border community of California and my bilingual experience has different facets. I speak Spanish, English, and Spanglish at home, have had Spanish, English, and bilingual formal education, and conduct my research in both English- and Spanish-speaking contexts.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. Yes, being bilingual is at the core of my identity and experience growing up in a bicultural community. Now that I conduct research in the US, Latin America, and multicultural/multilingual settings in Africa and Asia, I consider the importance of bilingualism in my life and in the life of my research participants as we navigate socially and cognitively complex environments and situations.

Q. How important do you think it is to raise children to be able to speak multiple languages? Please feel free to elaborate on how this is relevant to your life and/or work.

A. We know from research that bilingualism is related to certain cognitive benefits for children. That's important. And just as important, I think, is the cultural awareness and appreciation that comes with learning and being exposed to different languages. In an ever more connected world, being able to communicate with others in their language--whether it's family members, friends, or people we meet in the countries we visit--brings us closer together and helps us to be more empathetic citizens of this world. For my dissertation, I conducted an ethnographic study of children's play in three indigenous communities of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Each community had a different ethnic language, and I had to rely on interpreters to translate conversations and interviews to Spanish in the moment. Then, I had to translate my analyses of the data from Spanish to English. I was incredibly humbled by the patience participants demonstrated, the effectiveness of nonverbal communication, and the careful and measured interpretation that is required when conducting research across languages. As I continue to conduct work in bilingual/multilingual settings, I’ve realized that how I collect data, interpret it, and share results with diverse audiences needs to be tailored to the language experience of participants.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the language(s) that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. French and Japanese, I love how these two languages sound when spoken. I have enjoyed previous trips to both France and Japan and would, one day, like to be able to communicate in the local language when visiting.

Q. If you speak more than one language, do you find that you think in both languages or just one? Similarly, do you dream in both languages?

A. I think and dream in both languages, depending on the situation.

Q. If you speak more than one language, do you find that you feel or think differently when speaking in one language versus the other?

A. Yes--I have more mature emotion and academic language in English, I think because of my higher ed training in psychology and human development.

Q. What do you think is the biggest advantage of being bilingual?

A. I think being bilingual gives you different perspectives to navigate life. It gives you access to more information--language, context, and sociocultural knowledge--to make sense of and respond in diverse situations and interactions.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab, and sign up to participate!

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Featuring: Mariam Dahbi, Ed.M.    Mariam photo

Q. Please tell us about yourself!   

A. I'm a third year PhD student in the Human Development, Learning and Teaching concentration, at HGSE. I am also an international student, born and raised in Morocco.

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. Education, Language and Literacy, Child Development

Q. Please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. I am currently working on two different but equally interesting projects. The first looks at language and literacy growth among children enrolled in preschool, and how this growth varies depending on sociodemographic factors such as linguistic and ethnic background. The second project aims to measure adolescent students' global intercultural fluency investigate how the latter is related to students' sociodemographic factors like multilingualism, as well as experiential factors like world travel experience. Both projects are collaborations with advanced doctoral students and faculty. I am also interested in the role that music plays in supporting teaching and learning for students with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I consider myself trilingual, speaking Arabic, French and English. I grew up in Morocco, speaking a blend of French and Spoken Arabic, and my mom taught me a little Tamazight (aka Berber, indigenous North African language) which I rarely use. My parents also both speak English, and I started harassing them pretty early on to speak it with me. Now that I'm in the U.S., my daily language is definitely English, but when I call my friends and relatives from home, I generally use the French/Arabic blend with some English hints depending on the interlocutor and the topic of conversation.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. It is a big part of my identity, being from Morocco, a linguistic and cultural mosaic. Everything I do is informed and affected by the languages that I speak. In my work, I consistently find myself thinking about research involving student populations whose native language is not the language of schooling, as well as teachers whose students have different linguistic and cultural backgrounds than theirs.

Q. How important do you think it is to raise children to be able to speak multiple languages?

A. I do believe that speaking multiple languages while growing up brings some flexibility in our understanding of ourselves and others, and thins the boundaries between the two. Having said that, I think it is paramount for parents/teachers to be mindful of avoiding potential hierarchies that may surface among the languages, and raise children to love and value their heritage language(s) and the culture(s) associated with it/them.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the languages that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. I would start by improving my Spanish, because it is widely spoken in the U.S. as well as in the north of Morocco. But I would also love to learn Portuguese, because I want to learn to sing to Fado music and understand every word and meaning of the songs as I sing them.

Q. Do you find that you think in both languages or just one? Similarly, do you dream in both languages?

A. I think and dream either in French/Arabic or English. But I noticed that when I have to think or count quickly, I tend to do so in my French/Arabic blend.

Q. Do you find that you feel or think differently when speaking in one language versus the other?

A. Absolutely!! To me, a language is very "charged" with the culture(s) of the people that have represented it in my own personal life, and the experiences associated with learning it. Although I spoke English later than French and Arabic, learning it was always a blast-it was mainly through singing--so I associate it with good memories. Learning English has also helped me be more attuned to my emotions. It's probably because, in Morocco, it is not culturally common to make much space for conversations involving processing emotions/feelings. As a result, I didn't grow up with the language for such activity, whereas here in the U.S. I am equipped with a linguistic toolbox to unpack and communicate emotions, and I am encouraged to do so. It's pretty amazing to see how language is interwoven with culture and experience!

Q. What do you think is the biggest advantage of being bilingual?

A. Living a 'larger' life. To me, every added language is like an added contemporaneous life, and thus an added chance of understanding or relating to the lives of others.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab, and sign up to participate!

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Featuring: Dr. Ariana Loff

Q. Please tell us about yourself!         Dr. Ariana Loff

A. I am a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Luxembourg. My first love is teaching, but I fell in love with research a long time ago.

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. I consider myself to be affiliated with developmental psychology and education. I am most interested in intervention research and how we can bring science into the classroom, particularly in multilingual contexts.

Q. Please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A.I am interested in language and reading development in multilingual contexts and learning difficulties like dyslexia and DLD. My recent project looks into how home literacy environment influences language minority children's language development.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I am a native Portuguese speaker, and I have learned English from very early age. Living in a multilingual country, I use different languages whenever needed, Portuguese and English mainly, but also French and I know a few words here and there of Luxembourgish, but I still do not dare to delve into German. Yes, I consider myself bilingual. Using more than one language to communicate proves it. I think bilingualism is a big inclusive spectrum.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. It is part of my daily life for sure, in my work and in my personal life. Luxembourg is home to more then 170 different nationalities, so communication in this country has to be multilingual. It's amazing how many languages you hear sitting with a group of friends, or at a meeting at work, and for me this is a very exciting characteristic of this country.

Q. How important do you think it is to raise children to be able to speak multiple languages?

A. I think is very important but also a big challenge as there are many variables to consider. In Luxembourg is absolutely necessary to speak multiple languages as its a trilingual country with a trilingual educational system, and often the strict conception of multilingualism that the country has - being native-proficient in all three languages - gets in the way of successfully raising children that are capable to communicate efficiently in many languages and might lead to a big loss of their mother tongue in the process.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the languages that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. Right now, I would learn German, as is the most useful to me at my workplace, and this would open the door to Luxembourgish, which would be useful in my day -to-day life. I need to do it!

Q. Do you find that you think in both languages or just one? Similarly, do you dream in both languages?

A. I definitely think and dream in both languages. Nowadays, for example, I am very restricted speaking about my work in Portuguese, as I have worked in English throughout all my career. My "emotional" language will always be Portuguese, but nowadays living in such a multicultural and multilingual country, I find myself mixing several languages.

Q. Do you find that you feel or think differently when speaking in one language versus the other?

Yes, I think I do. In English, I am more structured. I make my to-do and shopping lists in English. I am quieter when I speak English and less animated. When I speak Portuguese, I am louder and can't keep up with my hands, and when something is going very well or terribly wrong the first word that comes out of my mouth will be in Portuguese!

Q. What do you think is the biggest advantage of being bilingual?

A. I think it adds flexibility of thinking, of communicating, of relating to people, and even in feeling. It's a very rich experience.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab, and sign up to participate!

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Featuring: April Boin Choi, Ed.M.

Q. Please tell us about yourself!      April picture

A. I am a Doctoral Candidate in Education at HGSE/GSAS being co-advised by Drs. Gigi Luk and Charles A. Nelson.

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. Child Development, Education, and Psychology

Q. Please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. I study the development of children at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), such as infants who have an older sibling with ASD and children with tuberous sclerosis complex. I am particularly interested in examining the development of early communicative and language abilities of these high-risk children, as such skills are among the important predictors of later outcomes in childhood and adulthood.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I was born and raised in South Korea and came to the States for part of high school and higher education. So, I was initially monolingual Korean-speaking and acquired English while in the US. I also took three years of Spanish in high school and loved learning it.

I consider myself bilingual, as I use Korean and English interchangeably in my everyday life. For quite a while, I had a misconception that I needed to speak two languages equally fluently to call myself a bilingual; however, thanks to the knowledge I gained in the B.E.E. Lab, I now understand that bilingualism doesn’t necessarily mean equal language competence or fluency in two languages. ☺

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. Yes, bilingualism is important in my life and work because it allows me to communicate and connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Q. Do you find that you feel or think differently when speaking in one language versus the other?

A. I can probably convey my thoughts and feelings in more sophisticated ways using the Korean language. Also I dream more often in Korean. On the other hand, I find myself more comfortable in English for academic writing and giving presentations, presumably because my training as a student and researcher has mostly been done in the United States.

Q. What brought you to the B.E.E. Lab?

A. I have been drawn to Professor Gigi Luk’s expertise on language and multifaceted approaches to investigating the role of early experiences (e.g., bilingualism) using brain and behavioral measures. I also deeply appreciate the translation and dissemination efforts of her research.

Over the recent years, I’ve found the intersection between bilingualism and autism fascinating, especially after learning that parents with children with autism are often advised to speak only one language to their children because bilingualism may further delay or hinder their development.

Given the paucity of research on this topic, I think it is important to examine the effects of bilingualism on language development of children with ASD in order to inform professionals and parents on evidence-based educational practices and possibly identify strategies to support a bilingual environment for these children and their families.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab and sign up to participate!

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Featuring: Rehan Rehman

Q. Please tell us about yourself! Rehan photo

A. I am currently pursuing my Masters degree in Neuroscience and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and recently joined the B.E.E. Lab as a research assistant for the summer. I was previously a high school psychology teacher in my home country of Pakistan.

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. I am most affiliated with the fields of psychology, education and cognitive neuroscience. A key aim of my research is to bridge the gap between neuroscience and education.

 Q. If you're a researcher, please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. My current work focuses on how socioeconomic disparities are associated with children's cognitive outcomes and brain development. I am interested in understanding how early life experiences, specifically the nature of the home language environment, affects child mindset and subsequent brain development.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. Although my native language is Urdu, I received my formal education in English. I also learned French and Arabic when I was in junior school and was exposed to Malay and Sinhalese when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. However, I have been only using Urdu and English in my daily life (both personally and professionally). Since I find myself switching automatically between both these two languages, I consider myself a bilingual.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. Certainly! I switch between both Urdu and English when communicating with family and friends. Since Urdu is Pakistan's national language, I use it frequently when interacting with people in public spaces. I have recently started to understand and articulate some Spanish words due to my social circle in New York City as well. In my opinion, language is not only a tool to foster diversity and pluralism, but also serves as a medium to understand different cultures and ideologies around the world. Consequently, language can be one of the gateways to becoming a truly global (and responsible) citizen.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the languages that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. Let me be greedy and ambitious and select two languages - Mandarin and Spanish. Both these languages would help me communicate with a wider range of people and open avenues for both travel and work.

Q. Do you find that you feel or think differently when speaking in one language versus the other?

A. Yes! I frequently find myself thinking and feeling differently when I speak in Urdu compared to English. I strongly associate Urdu with family and close friends. To put it crudely, Urdu gives me a 'home-like' feeling. Moreover, since I prefer to listen to classical Urdu and Sufi music, I often evoke different emotions compared to when I listen to say for example (American) Jazz. In contrast, since I speak English in professional settings, I find myself strategizing more in English compared to Urdu. It is amazing how contextual language really is and how our environments can shape the extent to which we prefer one language over the other!

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab and sign up to participate!

 

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Featuring: Dr. Joanna Christodoulou

Q. Please tell us about yourself!  Dr. Christodoulou

A. I serve as Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the MGH Institute of Health Professions (IHP). My research lab, the Brain, Education, and Mind (BEAM) Team, is based in the Center for Health and Rehabilitation Research at MGH IHP.

Q. What is your relationship to the B.E.E. Lab?

A. As collaborating labs, we examine reading disabilities in children from diverse language backgrounds. The most recent collaboration between the BEAM Team and the B.E.E. lab is a study surveying practitioners who identify or diagnose reading disabilities in school-age children in the U.S. We invite you to volunteer 15 minutes to complete this online survey today, and to help us spread the word to those in your community.

Survey link: http://bit.ly/BEAMreadingsurvey

 

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. Our lab’s work involves several areas, including cognitive neuroscience, psychology, child development, and cognitive science, as well as education, clinical, and medical contexts.

Q. If you're a researcher, please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. Our lab’s research examines individual differences in reading in terms of strengths and weaknesses on psycho-educational assessments; response to intervention; and the brain basis of reading development and difficulties.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I’m bilingual and biliterate in English and Greek, and I studied French for many years.

Q. How important do you think it is to raise children to be able to speak multiple languages?

A. Where it is an option, I encourage and support raising children with diverse language backgrounds.

Q. Do you find that you think in both languages or just one? Similarly, do you dream in both languages?

A. I draw on both languages in my waking life, and probably in dreams as well.

Q. Do you find that you feel or think differently when speaking in one language versus the other?

A. Yes, and I find it very helpful to have different languages to draw from when thinking or expressing thoughts and emotions. It is especially helpful when a single word in one language can capture a sentiment that would require a long explanation in another.

Q. What do you think is the biggest advantage of being bilingual?

A. I think that the biggest advantage of being bilingual is the access it provides: to additional communities, cultures, knowledge, perspectives, and people.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab and sign up to participate!

 

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Featuring: Rachel Hantman, Ed.M.

Q. Please tell us about yourself!   Rachel

A. I am a Research Assistant in the B.E.E. Lab, having recently completed my Master's in Education in Mind, Brain and Education in 2018 and my Bachelor's of Science in Neurobiology in 2017.

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. I consider my work and experience to be at the junction of neuroscience, psychology, and education.

Q. If you're a researcher, please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. I am deeply curious about the applications of neuroscience to education, particularly for pediatric special needs populations like children with autism spectrum disorder. More recently, I have become very interested in the direction of communication that exists (or does not) between the two fields. That is, do the fields partake in bidirectional communication and how can we, as researchers, help foster directional communication? 

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I grew up in a primarily English-only speaking family, but I have been tangentially exposed to multiple languages throughout my life. I have grandparents who know or are fluent in French, Yiddish, German, and Hebrew, and I so wish I had their proficiency in those languages. In school, I was exposed to Spanish from 3rd through 5th grade and French from 6th through 11th grade, but I can only barely read French text and can sometimes glean meaning from Spanish text. Growing up, I was also taught to read Hebrew, but never how to speak it. In undergrad, I also gained experience with Latin and Greek suffixes, prefixes, and roots. Although Yiddish phrases and words are a part of the language I regularly speak at home, I consider myself monolingual.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the language that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. I wish I spoke Spanish and stuck with it in grade school. I feel as though I am unable to speak with a large portion of the people in this country because I don't know Spanish.

Q. What brought you to the BEE Lab

A. I love the brain, am passionate about education, and am always eager to gain more skills that enable me to better study both the brain and education, so the BEE Lab seemed like a perfect fit for me.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab and sign up to participate!

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Featuring: Dr. Veronica Whitford, Ph.D.

Q. Please tell us about yourself!   Dr. Whitford photo

A. I'm an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso (former B.E.E. Lab Post-Doctoral Fellow).

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. Cognitive Psychology; Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience; Psycholinguistics

Q. If you're a researcher, please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. My research examines reading acquisition, development, and performance in typically and atypically developing monolinguals, bilinguals, and multilinguals across the lifespan. I use a combination of behavioral (e.g., eye-tracking) and neuroimaging (e.g., EEG, MRI) methods in my work.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I am a simultaneous English-French bilingual (I acquired both languages from birth). I also took a number of Spanish and Latin courses throughout the years; however, I consider myself a beginner in these languages.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. I currently live in El Paso, Texas, where both English and Spanish are spoken on a regular basis. As a bilingualism researcher, it is a wonderful environment to be in!

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the language(s) that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. Probably Arabic. It is one of the hardest languages for native English speakers to learn (and I am always up for a challenge).

Q. If you speak more than one language, do you find that you think in both languages or just one? Similarly, do you dream in both languages?

A. The language I think in usually depends on the social context that I am currently in. Unfortunately, I rarely remember my dreams -- I wonder what Sigmund Freud would have to say about that.

Q. What do you think is the biggest advantage of being bilingual?

A. The ability to speak more than one language is associated with numerous cognitive, economic, and social/cultural advantages. In today's globalized world, being bilingual is an absolute asset.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab and sign up to participate!

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Featuring: Laura Mesite, Ed. M.  

Q. Please tell us about yourself!   Laura photo

A. I'm a doctoral candidate in Human Development and Education at HGSE and a member of the B.E.E. Lab. The photo of me on the right is a bit old, but I love to show off my brain picture! That's the best part of doing MRI research!

Q: What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. I conduct interdisciplinary research that straddles the fields of education, cognitive neuroscience, and human development.

Q. If you're a researcher, please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. I'm interested in the identification and remediation of reading difficulties and reading disabilities among school-age children in the U.S. I am currently collaborating on a series of reading intervention studies aimed at improving general classroom instruction because I feel that a strong school literacy program is imperative to prevent reading difficulties and ensure the accurate identification of reading disabilities. Furthermore, I am also conducting mixed-methods research on the processes used to identify reading disabilities in children who are learning English in school (ELLs). Finally, I'm investigating the neural correlates of reading in children with reading disabilities as well as ELLs to contribute to the basic research on the neural profiles of children with reading difficulties and their behavioral correlates.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I'm one of the few monolinguals in the B.E.E. lab! I consider myself to be monolingual because I grew up speaking English only, and I use English in my daily life. That said, I've been actively learning Spanish since middle school, and I'm fairly capable at understanding it conversationally. My spoken language leaves much to be desired, but I'm continuing to learn!

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. Absolutely! I use Spanish socially with friends and their families. I've used Spanish in many of my previous jobs to communicate with co-workers, and I currently use it to communicate (to the best of my ability) with the families who come in to participate in our studies. My spouse is a middle school French and Spanish teacher, and we strongly believe in the importance of language learning to connect people across cultural, social, and national boundaries and promote empathy and human understanding.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the language(s) that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. I'd like to improve my Spanish to be able to communicate better with my friends, colleagues, and community members! I also would like to learn French to appease my spouse whose dream is to own a summer home in France one day.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab and sign up to participate!

 

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Featuring: Amanda Lubniewski, Ed. M.  

Q. Please tell us about yourself!    Amanda photo

A. I just graduated with my Master's degree from HGSE's Human Development and Psychology Program.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not? 

A. I am a native English speaker, and I speak Spanish frequently in my daily life. I consider myself bilingual because I can express myself comfortably in two languages.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. Yes! Bilingualism was been fundamental to my work as a preschool teacher in northern Chile. During my time at HGSE, being bilingual has helped me foster closer friendships with my peers from Latin America.

Q. How important do you think it is to raise children to be able to speak multiple languages? Please feel free to elaborate on how this is relevant to your life and/or work.

A. I think it's very important. When I have children someday, I would love to raise them to speak both English and Spanish. Speaking more than one language will open their world; linguistically, culturally, personally, and professionally.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the language(s) that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. I would love to speak Italian! Since I was younger, it's always been a dream of mine to visit Italy.

While you're here...check out the exciting research studies going on in our lab and sign up to participate!

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Featuring: Sarah Surrain, Ed. M. Sarah Surrain photo

Q. Please tell us about yourself!

A. I am a Ph.D. candidate in Education, studying bilingualism in early childhood.

Q. What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. I consider my work to be interdisciplinary, drawing on insights and methods from psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, developmental psychology and education.

Q. Please discuss your research interests and/or current work briefly.

A. My research is on the early language and literacy development of children from diverse language backgrounds. I am particularly interested in how language environments at home and at school support bilingual acquisition during early childhood. I am currently working on a project looking at how parents of young children perceive the value of bilingualism and how they support minority languages in the home.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I grew up using mostly English at home. I was first exposed to Spanish through my father, who had spent most of his childhood in Latin America and would playfully teach me Spanish words at home. I learned Spanish formally in school beginning in 1st grade, and later spent time in Mexico, Spain, Ecuador, and Guatemala. I have used Spanish for work in diverse positions such as managing a restaurant, teaching Spanish as a second language, and teaching literacy in Spanish in transitional bilingual classrooms. I have also studied Mandarin Chinese, though I would not say that I speak it well. I consider myself bilingual because I use Spanish almost every day either receptively or productively.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. Yes, bilingualism is central to both. I see language as the thread that connects us to our identities, cultures, and other people. Speaking more than one language allows for stronger bonds both within and across communities.

Q. How important do you think it is to raise children to be able to speak multiple languages? Please feel free to elaborate on how this is relevant to your life and/or work.

A. I think that raising a child to be bilingual is much more complex than is often assumed. While exposure to more than one language in the home is increasingly common in the US and across the globe, acquiring and sustaining proficiency in multiple languages depends on many factors. In the United States, where there is strong social pressure to use English and school systems tend to reinforce the idea that English is the only important language, raising a bilingual child can be difficult. And yet, for many children, bilingualism is necessary for communication with family members and success in school and work, and so it is critical that we learn how to better support children’s bilingual development.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the language(s) that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. I would like to be able to speak and read Arabic. My mother spent 6 years in Cairo, Egypt when she was a child, and I have uncles who spoke Arabic as one of their first languages. Plus, it is a beautiful, fascinating language and there are lots of interesting questions in bilingualism about Arabic diglossia and dialect differences across regions in the Arabic-speaking world.

Q. Do you find that there are certain words or expressions in one of the languages that you speak that cannot be translated precisely into the other language?

A. Definitely. There is rarely a perfect overlap between translation equivalents across languages. This is why learning other languages is wonderful, because you can add these new expressions into your personal repertoire. I love Spanish words that accomplish in one word something that takes a few words in English like madrugada (the wee hours of the morning) and the associated verb (madrugar = to get up super early). I also like despejado (clear, as in a cloudless blue sky) and despejarse (to clear your head).

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Featuring: Dr. Gigi Luk                                           Dr. Luk picture

Q. Please tell us about yourself!

A. I am Associate Professor of Education. I conduct research on bilingualism. I am also a mother trying to raise a bilingual child.

Q. What discipline do you consider yourself affiliated with?

A. I am a psychologist by training and I use different methods to study how speaking multiple languages changes cognitive processes. In addition, I examine whether this experience also changes the brain.

Q. Can you tell us about your language background and the language(s) you use in your daily life? Do you consider yourself bilingual? Why or why not?

A. I speak Cantonese and English. I also have some proficiency in French and Mandarin. I tried to learn Brazilian Portuguese, but I don't consider myself a fluent speaker besides Cantonese and English. I am a bilingual because I can switch between my two dominant languages and can understand to some extent (but not speak) the other languages I mentioned.

Q. Is bilingualism important in your life and/or work? If so, how?

A. Yes, bilingualism is important for both my life and work. I see bilingualism as a life experience and identity for many people around the world. It is important to understand our propensity to acquire multiple languages as a way to examine how we adapt to language diversity in our environment. Cultivating bilingualism is another way to promote respect for language and culture.

Q. How important do you think it is to raise children to be able to speak multiple languages? Please feel free to elaborate on how this is relevant to your life and/or work.

A. It is important to raise children to speak (or at least understand) multiple languages, if you have the resources. This means both for families and schools to consider what are the reasonable and feasible options to enrich children's language development.

Q. If you could speak another language in addition to the language(s) that you currently speak, what language would you choose and why?

A. I know that Latin is not a common colloquial language, but I really want to learn Latin because of its influence on other modern day languages.

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