Project on Children's Language Learning

For students

The Project on Children’s Language Learning is a part of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Laboratory within the Department of Linguistics. Each semester, applications are considered for the following semester. Applicants who apply after all available positions have been filled can defer their application to be considered for the next semester.

Students registered for independent study credit (LING 248 for the first semester and LING 448 for the second semester) will receive 3 credits for their work on the project and are expected to work 12 hours per week. Students working in the lab are asked for a 2 semester minimum commitment. See LING 248 Syllabus and LING 448 Syllabus.

The longer a research assistant works in the lab, the more responsibilities they are given. Some students may work closely with graduate students in designing and implementing new research projects. Research projects conducted in the lab may, in some cases, be extended to become honors theses.

Research with infants and preschoolers

Research with infants aims to understand linguistic knowledge in children who are not yet able to speak or who are just beginning to speak. The research is typically conducted on campus in our research lab in Marie Mount Hall. Much of this research involves measuring infants’ eye-movements when they are exposed to various audio-visual stimuli. These methods place minimal demands on the children and enable us to investigate children’s comprehension of language even before they are able to talk. Research with preschoolers may involve more interaction with children than research with younger infants. This research is carried out in several area preschools, including the University of Maryland’s Center for Young Children, and in our research lab in Marie Mount Hall. Our research examines preschoolers’ knowledge of syntax and semantics through a variety of interactive games designed to elicit verbal responses from young children. Additionally, some studies involve using an automated eye-tracking system, which identifies what someone is looking at in real time while listening to sentences in a real-world setting. Please visit our the methods page of this web site for brief descriptions of the procedures used.

The responsibilities of research assistants include:

  • Recruiting: Research assistants play a large role in contacting parents whose children are in our database and scheduling appointments for them to participate in our studies.

  • Performing measurements: Research assistants record many of the behavioral measurements that we collect. For example, in studies in which we measure infants’ visual attention to a stimulus, research assistants measure visual attention at a sampling rate of 30 measurements per second.

  • Creating materials: Because children have a limited attention span and are limited in their ability to integrate knowledge about the world with their linguistic representations, designing materials for our studies requires careful control of factors that help to maintain children’s interest and to focus on the linguistically relevant aspects of the stimuli. Many of our materials involve audio-visual presentation, so some research assistants will learn to use advanced video and audio editing software to create materials.

  • Conducting experiments: Research assistants participate in conducting experiments. This involves direct interaction with the infant or child, and their parents, and then controlling our audio-visual experiment presentation system, or telling the experimental story and controlling the puppet.

If you are interested in participating in lab research please contact the lab manager, Tara Mease.