Doctoral Dissertation Research: Processing of L2-specific multi-word units and the impact on representation and generalization: an ERP study

Project: Research project

Project Details


In their 2017 report on America's languages, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Commission on Language Learning recommends 'a national strategy to improve access to as many languages as possible for people of every region, ethnicity, and socioeconomic value language education as a persistent national need similar to education in math or English, and to ensure that a useful level of proficiency is within every student's reach' This dissertation is a step towards beginning to answer this call. Adult second language learners are often able to function at some level in a foreign language, but the influence of the native language during second language learning and use is known to negatively affect proficiency levels. Second language learners often experience the frustration of trying to remember a recently learned word in a second language, but only being able to retrieve the word in the native language. An important goal, then, is to learn to regulate interference from the native language to achieve higher proficiency in a second language. This project proposes to investigate how this might be possible.

The electrophysiological brain activity of English speakers who are learning Spanish will be measured during the learning of new word combinations, for example, 'despertar dudas.' This collocation literally translates as 'awaken doubts' but is expressed in English with the phrase 'raise doubts'. Using a word combination like 'despertar dudas' requires the suppression of the English translation equivalent 'raise doubts'. This research project will examine the brain activity associated with learning in conditions that require ignoring interference from the native language to examine whether they lead to better learning and generalization when learners are exposed to new input.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date3/15/192/28/21


  • National Science Foundation: $13,609.00


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