June 2011 Archives

Reporting on Norway (from China)

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Along with many other Penn Staters, I attended the 8th International Symposium on Bilingualism on 15-18 June in Oslo, Norway. Generally speaking, it was quite a transition leaving Beijing and waking up in Oslo. I'll leave the cities' and cultures' respective differences for another discussion, but what I found curiously difficult was making the transition from being in a foreign country where English proficiency is relatively low to one where English proficiency is widespread and very high. It seems that not being able to read the signs at the store is a pretty strong cue to inhibiting (socially and/or linguistically) my English production, as I did very little communicating with the Norwegians my first few days and ended up shopping at the Chinese grocery store where I was more comfortable struggling with Chinese than trying to convince myself it was OK to speak English with Norwegians. Fortunately (as I elaborate below), it proved to be a temporary condition...

No Pasa Nada

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The weeks go by faster and faster here in Tarragona and I can't believe we only have 2 weeks left! 

I'm proud to announce we now have a total of 32 participants and have many more signed up to come these next few days.  Everything has been running very smoothly in the lab (knock on wood!). 

We are glad to have everyone back from the conference in Oslo...It was so lonely without all of you!  Rosa came to have a coffee with us as soon as she got back.  She told us she couldn't believe how much our Spanish has improved since we arrived -I'm so proud!  Rosa has been a great help as always helping us find participants and making us feel at home (I know I keep mentioning that, but we are really so lucky to have her!)  She helped me go through a Boston Naming file and figure out which words could also be used for the picture naming -since it's sometimes hard to hear/understand/know if a word you've never heard before is correct!

Other than that there's really nothing new here.  I don't want to leave, the weather is lovely, and the food is never disappointing! 


New Challenges

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Being surrounded by graduate students has allowed me to "play up a level". Although I am still an undergraduate, this program has thrown me into the graduate level world. It feels great to be taking on more responsibility. At Penn State, I gave the tasks to the preschoolers and I inputted data. Adapting and translating materials was a new responsibility that I took on in the spring semester. And here, it's my job to make sure we are recruiting enough participants, to buy the rewards, set up the lab room, watch the videos, score the data (and repeat). 

Final Week in Granada: A Reflection

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While thinking about what to write about as my final blog post, I decided that a reflection on my time here would be the most appropriate. First, let me say that this experience was definitely worth it. I think that I was able to learn so much not only about linguistics but also just about life in general. I was able to meet new and interesting people and truly experience something new and outside of my comfort zone.

When I started out in Granada I was not really sure what to think. I initially questioned whether or not studying abroad would be as great as everyone has always made it out to be. Quickly I realized that it is in fact exactly that- one of the best experiences of my life. I also was not entirely sure what to think about working in a new lab with new people. How would I be received? Would I just be viewed as the major inconvenience in their lives? However, after going to the university that first day, I saw that that was the exact opposite of what was happening. Everyone at the University of Granada made me feel way more than welcome. Not once did I feel as though I was thought of as the American that was in the way or super inconvenient (even at the times when it was probably well-deserved; there were many weeks in which Lauren and I took a lot of space for a long time in order to run participants). I am so grateful for how accommodating everyone was and honestly the overall air of cordialness that I experienced when I arrived. It really made the transition to working here a lot easier.

I think most importantly, though, was that I learned a lot more about my individual project and the general process of running participants. I had no idea what to expect when setting out to recruit participants. Would we be able to get any to come in? Would they have trouble with the experiment itself? Would I be able to adequately and correctly explain everything in Spanish? I was very pleased when we were able to get the amount of participants that we did. On one day in particular (it was a Friday too) we had four people show up on their own accord, bringing our total for that day alone to nine! And really, most of the other days that ran participants, we had a pretty good amount. However, there were those days when we had a lot of no-shows (mainly when it rained), but I feel as though all of the other days really made up for it. And most of all, we made our end goal of 56 participants plus an additional four, bringing our total to 60. I am so glad that I was able to work with Lauren on this part because we definitely managed to create a pretty smooth system when running participants.

In the end, I am honestly really sad to be leaving Granada in less than a week. I have a hard time remembering where all that time went. It feels like I just arrived and already, I am heading back to the States. For any current PIRE students still at their host sites, I hope that the rest of your time is as great as mine has been. And for any future PIRE-Granada students, I am sure that you will have an amazing time here. It is one of the best places that I have been to and I am truly grateful for this amazing opportunity.

Unanticipated Opportunities

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PIRE has opened up many opportunities for us. Some were expected, but there has been so much more that I didn't see coming. While the PIRE partnerships are important for bridging gaps between universities around the world, it is just as important to bring together different people and disciplines. It creates a well-rounded scholar and a multicultural individual. With this experience, I feel as though I can take on anything.

The Final Stretch

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Well, time has certainly flown by and it's now 13 days until I leave Nijmegen. I've tested 25 participants so far with 15 more scheduled, and at least one person signs up every day. There were a couple days where I was a bit worried that I may have to take some extra steps to find participants but that won't be the case, fortunately.

I've been very much on my own here in the Netherlands, so the experiment really has been my baby of sorts. The results and the successes or failures contained within will be largely my responsibility, which makes me quite proud of it but also quite nervous! I'm excited to see how everything looks when I return, and to see what everyone else has been finding.

Later today I'm heading to Amsterdam to stay with some friends I made a couple years ago on my last trip through the city. It will be nice to see them again and to be in Amsterdam again. It's a very different place from Nijmegen, with all the great, good, bad and ugly that comes from being a major cosmo/metro-politan area.

Phase Two

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I have finally finished running participants! It feels strange to be done such an important part of my study. I am now ready to move on to analyzing everything and I'm quite excited to see how it all turns out...

I love bocadillos

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The seminar last week went well.  Kylee and I presented our research proposals and we had the pleasure of hearing Dani's thesis as well.  We also got to hear what other faculty members have been working on throughout the past few weeks.  Dani was researching rational persuasion (a theory that was used even by ancient philosophers!).  Using psychologism, he convinced his participants to believe or agree with what they were reading.  He came up with a formula: a statement followed by a fact and a rule.  It proved to be a very effective formula, scary!  Marc (also our technician!) is researching the stages of learning a second language and the knowledge of isolated words.  He used recognition tasks to test his theory:  one who is not proficient in Spanish would have to translate the words on the screen to their L1 to be able to process the word, but as one becomes more proficient they no longer have to translate that word.  Gavi used correlations of theory and mind tasks to research schizophrenic individuals' comprehension of metaphors, irony, and sayings (like sarcasm).The theory is that schizophrenic individuals cannot comprehend phrases that are non-literal. Pilar's research fascinated me the most because it is so true, but the idea never occurred to me before; she is researching the emotion of languages.  It is believed that one feels more emotion when using their L1. Therefore cursing or expressing feelings of love will create a stronger sensation when using ones primary language versus hearing or using the same words in ones L2.  She tested her theory by showing participants a bunch of words on a screen all at once.  Some of the words were emotional words, and others were neutral words and she did this in participants L1 and L2.  The participants tend to remember more emotional words (like love) than neutral words in their L1.  So cool! 

We have fallen slightly behind on our number of participants we have run so far (16).  About 75% of our participants never showed up or cancelled their appointments which started to get a little frustrating.  It is understandable though because students are just finishing up with finals and are very busy.  Now that finals are over with we are hoping to have a little more luck...so far so good this week, and a lot more are booked!

As for life in Tarragona, Kylee and I have had lots of fun adventures.  Last week we tried snail! It was surprisingly good, but I would never eat it again!  Also the cold and rainy weather is finally clearing up and now it is HOT!  This past week Tarragona was filled with Europeans and Kylee and I were surrounded by Swiss people in our hotel.  They were here for the European JCI conference (there were about 3,000 members here!)  It is a non-profit organization consisting of members ages 18-40, has representation of over 120 different countries, and has over a million alumni.  The members talk about global issues, engage in things like international projects, develop management skills, and help improve the world!  I felt so uncultured that I had never heard of it before, and to think it was founded by the United Nations!

Last week I also completed a 20 hour Master and PhD student Course titled The Psychology of Personal Selection: Personality and Intelligence in the Prediction of Career Success.  I was only able to attend half of it because we had participants, but they still gave me a certificate which was nice of them!  It was a very interesting course because it talked about values important in everyday life.  In the course we learned about 'hot' intelligence (mathematical and logical skills) and 'cold' intelligence (emotions, instincts etc).  An IQ test only measures 'hot' intelligence though 'hot' intelligence Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic states is equally, if not more important in future career success.  He said there is a fundamental difference between the problems we find in an IQ test --where there is only one solution-- and the problems we find in everyday life --where there are multiple solutions.  Because interpersonal skills are important in 'real' life they help determine future career success and should therefore be measured and weighted equally with IQ.  He then showed us methods of measuring Personality.  He categorized important aspects of personality:  self-care, risk prevention, optimal treatment and openness (intelligence), conscientiousness (study habits, self-discipline, organization) neuroticism.  All of these he said are important factors in measuring future career success.  He stated Happy=Successful and a good employee has good conscientiousness, stability, confidence and interest.  Companies want order and predictability.  So read this before going on a job interview!  It was interesting to hear all of this put into perspective. 

chirp, chirp

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We are still going through the motions, trying to recruit participants and remind them to come in for their appointment.  Thank god you don't have to pay everytime you send an email!! Together Rachel and I have about 20 right now so we need more participants to start swarming in.  In addition to the 20, I have about 5 participants for my lower proficiency group.  I cannot stress how lucky we are to have the people in Rosa's lab. 

On a different note, the sun has finally returned to spain :) hopefully it will stay awhile.  

Rachel is currently taking care of a baby bird as a past time.  Quite comical.  She is a little momma. 

Chinese Culture

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It's now week four and I've had a lot of exposure to Chinese culture and everyday life here. I thought I'd make this blog post for the future PIRE student conducting research at Beijing Normal University (BNU). I've noticed many differences and similarities between here and the US that I think would be helpful for a future student to know before he/she goes abroad. Although I'm sure they will still experience a culture shock, hopefully this can lessen the blow. I'll list what I've learned here:

Touring China

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Weekdays here at Beijing Normal University have a fairly consistent pattern - largely filled with doing what I can to adapt my research plans to accommodate another small setback.  Fortunately, with the help of Ben and my new colleagues, I believe we have turned a slightly inclement situation into a positive one!  Borrowing some of Ben's literature and knowledge of fNIRS, I believe I have developed a suitable plan to use the valuable time and resources I have at my fingertips here at BNU to compile some valuable language-related data.  I look forward to learning more about the advantages of fNIRS, particularly in regards to its leniency when it comes to the subject's physical movement while still collecting data. This week, we also heard from Dr. Marius Peelen, from the University of Trento, Italy.  He discussed the neural mechanisms underlying seemingly effortless familiar object detection in convoluted scenes.  The weekends, however, have yet come anywhere close to ordinary, especially for a small-town Penn-Stater from rural PA!  Last weekend, Ben, Nicole, and myself went to The Temple of Heaven with two colleagues from Taomei's lab. This has been on my Beijing bucket list from the time I first heard I would be heading to China.

Making Immersion Happen...

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Despite my startling first experience with Chinese immersion, I've actually found that in many cases, it's easy to get around Beijing with only a bit of pocket-guide Chinese and a lot of gesturing. I actually want to advise against this solution, however, for a few reasons:

  1. Whipping out the pocket-Chinese book is an instant beacon screaming "I'm a tourist who is dying to part with his money! Please overcharge me for things!"

  2. Relying on gesture and quick vocabulary results in a lazy mindset about language learning. It rarely results in meaningful exchanges, and you're pretty unmotivated to remember the words you keep looking up.

  3. Ordering from the picture menu gets old fast. Remember those days pointing to the chicken nuggets on the kids menu? Yeah, just like that.

Instead, it's important to put yourself out on there on the ragged edge of your language abilities. A little panic and embarrassment go a long way toward long-term memory encoding. Learning is certainly modulated by motivation, and nothing is more motivating than trying to describe what exactly butter is to an unimpressed grocer...

Presenting in Granada

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This week has been pretty exciting for both Lauren and I. Actually, I guess I should clarify by saying that Wednesday was really exciting for the two of us; the rest of the week has actually been quite typical. On Wednesday, two very important events happened. First, we ran our final and 60th participant (which I will not really talk too much about because Lauren is planning to write about that) and second, we presented our projects to the lab here.

Overall, I think that our presentation, which I will attempt to post at the bottom of this post, went quite well. Afterwards, we were told that it was very good by some of the lab members, so I am taking that to mean that it was in fact a good presentation. However, we were lucky enough to have both Jorge and Jason here to look over our presentation before we actually presented it in order to look for any holes or confusing statements within it. They both leave for Norway at the beginning of next week, though, so I am very happy that we presented this week while we had them as a little bit of backup. Also, I felt quite comfortable presenting in front of the lab here. There were many smiling faces, which always make this process easier, and I genuinely felt as though everyone was really hoping that we would do well, not that this does not occur back home, but it was just something encouraging that I noticed in the moment here.

When actually starting to prepare a presentation here, Lauren and I decided that doing one joint presentation made more sense than two individual ones. Much of our information is identical, or at least similar, so in order to avoid simply repeating ourselves, one presentation seemed to work in our favor. However, this process of creating the presentation was really easy because we each had our PowerPoint presentations from the meeting back in April. It was really just a matter of making the flow a little smoother. The one downside to our presentation, however, was that we couldn't really show any eye-tracking data because we have been running so many participants so frequently. In addition, any data that we would be showing would just be about monolinguals, so it really would not help to prove or disprove a lot about the English-Spanish bilinguals.

On the whole, I think that everyone was very happy with what we provided and very impressed with the PIRE program. One of the points that we wanted to be sure to make was the significance of the PIRE program and what exactly it allows us to do because many of the people here did not quite understand why we were here. Honestly, though, it is quite a unique experience, so chances are that most students at American universities would not really understand it as well.

PIRE Presentation.pptx

Rain, Rain, Go Away..

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 Rachel and I are currently in the lab waiting for our participants to come in.   We have been having a hard time with people actually showing up when they say they will.  Most of our appointments have been no shows.  So cross your fingers that this one actually shows. 

Last friday, we presented our projects to Rosa's research lab.  It was a good learning experience.  I will attach my powerpoint.  I have also started to code data so that is exciting as well!  powerpoint.may30.pptx

An Exciting Week

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The time since my last post has flown by, due in particular to a very busy schedule. On Wednesday of this past week, Ben and I addressed Prof. Shu and a number of her students at the weekly Wednesday seminar here in "The Little Red Building" at BNU.   Ben went first, giving an overview of his experience with fNIRS-based language research and the plan for his Beijing projects.  I presented second, talking mostly about my role in the Brain, Language, and Computation Lab at Penn State. 


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     For my research study at Beijing Normal University (BNU), I am replicating tests of knowledge, language processing, executive function and theory of mind that we have used at Penn State. This requires many more changes than simply translating the materials. Let's begin with recruitment. At Penn State, we send letters of consent home with the children who qualify for the study at the preschools on campus (The Bennett Center and The Child Development Lab). At BNU, we have been recruiting participants by having Dr. Taomei Guo hand out flyers to professors and friends who have young children. This cultural difference is telling of how things operate in each location. In regards to adapting the theory of mind task, we have borrowed the Chinese script from Wellman & Liu (2004) with their permission. They have changed the names of the toy people to ones that are culturally appropriate (e.g. Peter to Dongdong) and also changed the items used (e.g. crayon box to potato chip tube). The fast mapping task is used as a processing based measure and it tests the child's ability to "map" novel words to novel objects. The first changes were made to the familiar objects. After consulting with a graduate student from Beijing (at Penn State), we replaced block and marker with book and shoe. Next, we got help in creating Chinese non-words. 

Teaching and learning fNIRS

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Almost exactly a year ago, I had the privilege of visiting Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) to learn about their functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) system. fNIRS has existed as a neuroimaging tool for over 15 years, but only recently has it come to the forefront as a major opportunity for research in cognitive neuroscience, and as specifically a tool for psycholinguistic studies. fNIRS offers the distinct advantages of relative silence and motion insensitivity, permitting speech comprehension and production while undergoing a scan. Like fMRI, it also offers spatial localization of hemodynamic activity, but measuring at considerably higher speeds. A year later, here at Beijing Normal University (literally half a world away), I have had my second chance to work in fNIRS research.

The Importance of Being Prudent

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As I alluded to last week, I have taken it upon myself to write some instructions for the scoring processes of both the Language Proficiency Tests and the Lexical Decision Tasks. After discussing everything with both Lauren and Giuli, I began to realize that it will be very easy to simply forget the systems that I have been using this summer when we all return in the fall. I am happy to say that I have finished writing some pretty detailed instructions for both of these, but it was definitely not easy.

Probably the worst part about creating these documents was the amount of detail that I had to put into each step. I think that this was perhaps the most important part of the whole writing process because I know that if there are any gaps in these documents, it may be difficult to go through them in the future. While this may not be the worst thing possible and could probably be figured out, I think that these documents will cut down on a lot of extra explaining and relearning. As promised, though, anyone looking to score anything and who has used similar programs are welcome to ask me for these. Even though it takes a while to read through everything, I think that it is a pretty easy process to master overall. Once you get in the swing of things, you can almost do it with your eyes closed (I would not suggest actually doing this however).

Finally, this week has been quite fruitful in terms of research. Every day this week, Lauren and I have been running quite a few participants, even though their semesters are winding down right now. And we have definitely seen the effects of the end of the semester difficulties; yesterday, we had four participants cancel on us. Luckily, though, we had two participants get two of their friends to come on the spot today, which sort of made everything even (more of mentally even, though--not numerically). But overall, I think that we will hit our goal for participant recruitment by the end of next week. Now we just need to hope that people show up for us!

Where are the Cooking Instructions?!

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Tomorrow I will present my research proposal in our weekly seminars.  Attached is the PowerPoint it will be based off of.  Thanks for the comment Amelia.  To answer your question, I will be presenting in Spanish though the PowerPoint is in English.  The PowerPoint may seem a little confusing in --regards to how my experiment is set up-- to those who are not familiar with it, so let me elaborate.  My code-switching experiment consists of a 20 minute self-paced reading task.  First there appears a whole sentence (in English) on the screen and then a sentence presented word-for-word (also in English), as demonstrated in the PowerPoint.  The sentence that appears first and all at once is where the social contextual trigger is (something that is contextually related to the language -in this case Spanish--the participant will be switching to).  In the word-for-word phrase, there will be a code-switch into Spanish (so there will appear one word in Spanish).  Since the experiment is a self-paced reading task, using a button box, participants push a button in between every word of the word-for-word sentence.   Therefore the button box can record the reaction time of the code-switch.  The theory is that a social contextual trigger helps facilitate a code-switch, thus there should be a reduced reaction time recorded when reading the code-switch.  I have added a few extra comprehension questions (yes/no questions) to the experiment to be sure the native Spanish-speaking participants are paying attention and can understand what they are reading!  I also changed one of the social contextual triggers from 5 de Mayo to Semana Santa (since no Spaniard knows what 5 de Mayo is and every Spaniard knows what Semana Santa is)!  Hopefully my explanation makes sense!Lexical_Triggering_and_&_CS.ppt

First Participants

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As I described in my last post, it certainly took a long time to start actually running participants, but this week it finally happened. At last, empirical confirmation that I am indeed here with a reason and a purpose, and at halfway through my stay it was not a moment too late!

I had four subjects this week - all women, a bit probability-defying. Everything went smoothly, at least from my perspective.

Radboud University operates a webpage called the Sona Research Participation System which is what I've been exclusively using to recruit people. It's very well-designed, you can add your study to the list of ones being advertised and subjects-in-waiting can peruse it at their leisure and sign up for a certain timeslot. I've had it advertised for one week now and I've already had 25 people sign up, so I'm quite confident I'll reach the goal of 40 within the next four weeks. :-) I've not had any 'no-shows' thus far, and I don't believe that trend will stop, either.
June 1st, where did you come from!? It's hard to believe that the whole month of May has come and gone, but it's no surprise the time flew by. Researching in Granada has been wonderful and very productive!

With one month left to go here at the Universidad de Granada, it's great to report that we are on track with our research and everything is going well. We finished the first round of participants and have already begun round two, using an experiment with another set of controls.

The Two Week Crunch

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The past few weeks have proved to be some very long days in the office.

I have begun running participants and have run into more of a time crunch than expected. When I arrived in Leipzig, the plan was for me to run my own study and then help expand another intern's study, which is related to my own with an added EEG component. However, I am now running some norming data for her experiment as part of my own study and this means that she cannot move forward with hers until I have finished collecting mine...





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