Current Projects

Neural correlates of individual and age-related differences in L2 grammar learning

A common belief is that children can learn a foreign language more easily than adults. Is that true, and if so, what makes a child’s brain more fit for language learning? And what about other differences in language learning ability besides age? We will test a large sample of 240 children and young adults to address this question.

People: Willeke Menks (postdoc), Katharina Gruber (research assistant), James McQueen, Gabriele Janssen, Evan Kidd, Guillén Fernandez
Project started in: 2017
Funding: NWO Language in Interaction Consortium

Determinants of second language pronunciation ability

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a new language knows how difficult it is to reach nativelike proficiency. Among the different language skills, production of non-native sounds may be one of the most difficult, usually giving way to what is known as a “foreign accent.” The question of why acquiring nativelike pronunciation in a new language proves so difficult, when children are able to do so almost effortlessly, is one that has puzzled researchers for centuries. This project tries to identify cognitive skills that underly the enormous individual differences in L2 pronunciation.

People: Mónica Wagner (PhD candidate), Sara Dhaene (Master student), Mirjam Broersma (co-promotor), James McQueen (co-promotor)
Project started in : 2016
Funding: Donders CNS Top Talent scheme

Forgetting a second language (L2 attrition)

In times of fierce job competition, many people go abroad to acquire and refine foreign language (L2) skills, the implicit expectation being that these skills will be largely preserved throughout life. While mechanisms of L2 acquisition are currently intensively investigated, knowledge about the process of L2 deterioration after returning from abroad remains scarce. Previous research on language forgetting, i.e. ‘attrition’, has focused mostly on documenting that forgetting happens, but has done little to unravel the cognitive mechanisms underlying the attrition process. This project uses neuroscientific methods from the domain of memory research to better understand why and how we forget a foreign language.

People: Anne Mickan (PhD candidate), Beatrice Valentini (intern), Katya Slesareva (Master student), James McQueen (promotor)
Project started in: 2016
Funding: IMPRS fellowship

Error Monitoring and Cognitive control in bilingual language production

In order to correctly speak one language at a time, bilinguals need to take control of their languages and avoid interference from the nontarget language. We are looking at the behavioural and electrophysiological correlates of bilingual language control, e.g. in experiments where bilinguals are asked to switch languages.

People: Xiaochen Zheng (PhD student), Ardi Roelofs (promotor), Mathieu Declerck (external collaborator)
Project started in: 2015
Funding: DCC Internal grant

L2 learning ‘in the wild’

Ever more people spend one or more periods of their adult lives immersed in a second-language (L2) environment. Often after a period of formal tuition, a large part of their further language improvement happens in daily life, merely through natural exposure to L2 input. However, surprisingly little is known about the mechanisms of such natural L2 learning. This project tries to take this spontaneous learning to the lab. We aim to find out how adults learn and improve on a second language ‘in the wild’, using controlled lab methods (e.g., dialogue ‘games’). (read more)

People: Annika Brandt, Johanna de Vos (PhD candidates), Julia Egger (Master student), Eva Koch (Master project), Xiaochen Zheng (Master project), Anne Mickan (Master project), Herbert Schriefers (promotor)
Project started in: 2014
Funding: NWO vidi project to K.L.