How do children acquire language?

This week I have the pleasure of introducing you to Shirley Cheung. She is currently researching how children acquire language for her Phd at Lancaster University. My sister took part in one of Shirley’s research sessions and we met shortly afterwards. So without further ado, on with the interview.


Could you tell us a little about your early language learning

My first (native) language is Cantonese. My mother is from Hong Kong and my father was from mainland China, but I was raised in the United States. I started to learn English as a second language in preschool, but I only transitioned to using English as my dominant language when I was around 10 years of age. As I started using more English at school and with my friends over time, I slowly lost my fluency in Cantonese.


Why are you interested in languages?

I am fascinated with languages and how we learn them from a very young age, because language acts as a gateway to communicate our thoughts and intentions with others. The ability to use language at the level that we do is what distinguishes us from primates and animals. Language is so complex, yet it seems like we acquire it with remarkable ease. Languages are also very different from each other (for example, Sign Language vs. French) yet they accomplish the same goal??? to communicate!

Why did you decide to do the research you now do?
My PhD investigates how language background (i.e. monolingualism vs. bilingualism) affects speech perception in young infants. More importantly, whether learning two languages promotes a greater advantage for infants to pick up sounds from languages they have never been exposed to before (that is, non-native languages). My main research question asks whether bilingualism aids in perceptual flexibility in the speech signal at the time where infants’ native-language perceptual systems start to become focused on only the sounds of the language(s) they are exposed to.


How can we help you with your research?

Currently I am seeking Mandarin-English bilingual families to participate in my research. Below is a PDF copy of my recruitment flyer. I’d also like to mention that I anticipate bringing my research down to London for a few months, so if any parents around the area are interested in taking part, please keep in touch. My email address is s.cheung@lancaster.ac.uk

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