Dr. Katharine Graf Estes, Principal Investigator - Lab Director
Infants are immersed in a world of immense complexity, yet they display knowledge of the people, objects, actions, and sounds in their environments very early in life. My research explores the mechanisms that support this early learning. In particular, the ability to detect statistical regularities may play a fundamental role in how infants learn about a highly complex, highly salient aspect of the auditory world: language. Infants become especially attuned to regularities in the sound patterns of the ambient language, including its phoneme distinctions, sound combinations within words, and its cues to word boundaries in fluent speech. Thus, when infants begin to understand and produce words, they do not start as a blank slate. I am investigating how infants learn from statistical regularities in the language they hear and the nature of what they learn.
Erica Verde, Graduate Student
I am a fifth year doctoral student in the developmental area in the psychology department. A simultaneous English-Spanish bilingual originally from Miami, I hold a bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Miami and a master's degree in Linguistics from Florida International University. Before joining the Language Learning Lab, I managed an infant language lab at Stanford University under Dr. Anne Fernald, as well as the ISI bilingual language processing lab under Dr. Paola Dussias at the Pennsylvania State University. I am broadly interested in lexical and semantic acquisition and processing in both monolingual and bilingual populations. In particular, I hope to explore the role of statistical learning in these processes and how variability in the input affects infants' ability to recognize meaningful language features.
Andrea Ramirez Barajas, Graduate Student
I am a second year doctoral student in the Developmental area in the Psychology department. I graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Spanish and Psychology B.A. Before starting my PhD at the lab, I worked as a McNair Scholar for two years with Dr. Graf Estes where I was able to conduct and present research in infant bilingual language acquisition. I am broadly interested in the variations in lexical and acoustic properties in a bilingual as well as a monolingual population. More specifically, I’m interested in parent-child interactions and the effect the parent’s speech has on their infant’s language development in a social context.
Isabelle Pai, Graduate Student
I am a first year Ph.D. student in developmental psychology. I come from an Economics research background, with a B.A. in Economics from New York University and research experience at Nielsen and GfK after graduation. I received my Master’s degree in Developmental Psychology, with a Cognitive Development concentration, from Cornell University in 2020. My primary research interest is in Cognitive Development, particularly the development of information processing and language acquisition. I plan to study how infants and young children acquire language - how they learn semantic and pragmatic concepts, how they form abstract relations and how this acquisition facilitates their thought formation. I am particularly interested in understanding cognate facilitation and transference of inputs between the dominant and heritage language. In the Language Learning lab, I’d like to investigate the semantic and pragmatic differences in cognates and how the difference affects the way bilingual children form different abstract relations. In my spare time, I enjoy attending symphonies, cold weather sports such as hockey, figure skating, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing, and spending time in nature.
Melanie Yoon, Honor Student Thesis
I am a third-year international student at UC Davis, double majoring in Psychology and Linguistics. I was born and raised in Malaysia, a country diverse in language and culture. I grew up in a multilingual environment which sparked my interest in languages. I was initially intrigued by language change throughout history but later found an interest in language acquisition and speech disorders. I am particularly fascinated at infants' sensitivity to the phonemes of their language and the aspects of development affected by speech and language disorders. After completing an internship with a speech therapist, I developed a curiosity about the various treatment methods used for speech disorders. Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I intend to further my education in the field of speech pathology.
Summer Zhu, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Lead of Visual Data
I am a fourth year international student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology with a minor in Education. I was born and raised in Shanghai, which is a typical bilingual city for Shanghai dialect and Mandarin. I came to United States at the age of 14 with the aspiration to broaden my world perspective, and this experience of overcoming language barriers made me really interested in Education and Linguistics. I am attracted by the process of how infants learn two languages simultaneously and by the cognitive ability of a child to see environmental patterns. Joining the Language Learning Lab can help me gain practical research experience, which will directly relate to my future career as an early childhood educator. I also had several experiences of working with children before. Other than my passion for language and children, I enjoy hiking and playing badminton.
Emma Wong, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a third year international student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology, and hope to attain a minor in English as well. I was born and raised in Hong Kong my entire life before coming to the states for college. Ethnically, my mother is Japanese and my father is Chinese—since they didn’t know each others’ languages, they only communicated in English, and this was what they raised me with. Though English is my native language, my life was sprinkled with various levels of exposure to Japanese, Cantonese, and Mandarin—resulting in a very discombobulated ethnic-language identity due to a lack of fluency in these three languages. So naturally, the research on bilingual and multilingual children in this lab struck a personal chord with me. In other words, I applied to this lab not only to gain practical lab and research skills, but to find answers to the linguistic training I lacked in my own childhood. In the future, I hope to continue my psychology studies in graduate school and one day work in the social work and counseling fields in the states or back in Hong Kong.
Mariam Ali, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Lead of Media Platforms and Data Entry
I am a fourth-year student at UC Davis majoring in Cognitive Science with Computational emphasis and minoring in Arabic. I was born and raised in Assiut, Egypt and grew up speaking Arabic until I came to the United States in 2010, and learned English. I have always had a passion for kids since I grew up babysitting my cousins and my sister. It was also because of this love that I started to tutor from a young age. I wanted to create a difference by helping children grow. For this reason, I applied to work for the Language Learning Lab to know how the age of a child can cause a difference in learning and how the brain can have a large capacity to absorb more than one language. I want to immerse myself with kids to not only understand them linguistically and cognitively, but to also figure out how parents can affect children’s development. In the long term, and through this experience, I will expand my knowledge and be able to help children around the world. Outside of my academics, I like to go on new adventures, try new food and listen to Arabic music.
Ellie Lacaze, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a third year undergraduate student at UC Davis pursuing a double major in Cognitive Science and Psychology. I was raised in Fremont, California in a monolingual household, despite my parents' efforts to teach my twin sister and I Spanish. We both picked it up easily when we were young, but quickly forgot everything later on. This affinity for language that we possess as children intrigues me, and joining the Language Learning Lab will allow me to explore infant learning patterns in a more hands-on and focused environment than a classroom could provide. Also, I have always loved working with children, whether it be babysitting or volunteering as an assistant teacher at a science camp over the summer. After completing my undergraduate degrees, I hope to continue my education at graduate school. In the meantime, though, I enjoy meeting up with friends between classes, thrifting in downtown Davis, and reading a good science fiction novel whenever time allows.
Grace Paniccia, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a fourth year transfer student at UC Davis, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Human Development. Language has played a paramount role in my own development as speaking was difficult for me as a child. Instead of preschool, I was enrolled in a school dedicated to speech therapy. Since then, I have become intrigued with words and languages. I have always had a strong connection to kids. During elementary school, you would always find me in the special needs classroom during my recess time. My gentle nature was well-suited to them and I enjoyed their company. Since high school I have babysat part-time and many mothers have called me the "baby whisperer." My love of language and connection with children has led me to intern at the Language Learning Lab and I'm eager to learn about child language development. In the future, I plan to be a child psychologist. An interesting fact about me is I like to crochet blankets.
Jessica Carrasco, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a second-year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology with a minor in Human Development. I was raised in a household where I was first taught how to speak Spanish, then I was later taught English by my siblings. English, then became my primary language. I’ve always found it completely fascinating how at such a young age, one has the capability of learning different languages simultaneously. This great curiosity motivated me to join the Language Learning Lab to expand my knowledge about the language development in children. I also have a great passion working with children; I have volunteered as a tutor at an elementary school and was a soccer coach for the youth. I believe this lab is a great opportunity to grow the different skills that I can incorporate into graduate school and my future career. In my free time, I enjoy going to the gym, discovering new places, and spending time with friends and family.
Naina Narain, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a third year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Cognitive Science and Linguistics. Since my first quarter at Davis, I became interested in linguistics and its connection to the brain. I grew up speaking English in a Hindi-English speaking household, while learning Spanish in school. My personal experience with language acquisition, being monolingual in a bilingual household, and my interest in language and the brain have led me to join the Language Learning Lab. I aim to expand my knowledge in bilingual language acquisition, and language acquisition in general. In the future, I hope to apply my knowledge in linguistics and the mind to work with interactive linguistic devices. In my free time I love to paint, draw, and practice digital design.
Priscilla Ferreira Servin, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a fourth year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology. My interest in language development started at a young age when I began to notice that I had to interpret for my immigrant parents during doctors appointments, legal advising, and even during my own academic meetings. The difficulties that my parents encountered while adapting to the English language in the United States kick-started my passion of providing underprivileged youth with social and academic resources, while helping them to see alternatives to what can sometimes seem a hopeless situation. Due to these experiences, I have immersed myself in the world of youth enrichment for the City of Vallejo by offering student leadership, advocacy, and personal development. My love for youth empowerment has led me to join the Language Learning Lab in order to learn more about the power of understanding language and the development of children. Other than my passion for student advocacy I enjoy rollerblading and kickboxing on my free time!
Yuxuan (Lydia) Xiang, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I’m a fourth-year international student at UC Davis majoring in psychology and communication. I have explored different psychology fields, includes both clinic and research, and find that developmental psychology is the one I have the most passion with, especially language development. I have done several home assessments with 3-5 years old bilingual children, and their different language levels stimulate my interest to explore language development at different ages. I enjoy working with kids, and I have great experience working with children of different ages. I hope I can contribute to the lab and practice myself. Outside of academics, I enjoy painting, Chinese calligraphy, being outdoors, cute animals, and cooking.
Ayaa Osman, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a 4th year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development. I grew up in a primarily Arabic-speaking household and began speaking English around the age 4. I became fluent in both languages and started switching between the two effortlessly, sometimes exchanging certain words from one language to the other. Growing up, I began realizing how fascinating it is to be able to adopt different languages at such a young age and easily distinguish between them. Stumbling upon the Language Learning Lab, I was immediately drawn to the studies done on young children. I’ve always been interested in how children are able to quickly learn and adapt to their surroundings. I hope to one day work in an environment that creates an overall better life for children, especially those that come from underserved and underprivileged backgrounds. Aside from this, I enjoy everything related to creating art and sipping coffee.
Miranda Kramer, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a senior transfer student at UC Davis studying Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior with a minor in Psychology. I was raised in a small rural Northern California community, and my arrival into this world inspired my mom to finish her degree in child development. Because of this, I spent my early days in a preschool classroom with “Teacher Mommy,” and later on I had the opportunity to assist in her classroom, which passed down a deep passion to work with, and advocates for, children in underserved communities. I also worked as a Behavioral Therapist with children on the Autism Spectrum, which reinforced the value of language acquisition and how life-changing the ability to communicate can be. I am fascinated by the innate methods children use to better understand the world around them, and the Language Learning Lab provides me with a unique opportunity to study one of the arguably most important ways children make sense of their environment: through language. In my free time (and before the pandemic), I enjoyed going to concerts and music festivals, as well as spending time with family.
Cynthia Cortez, Undergraduate Research Assistant
- I am a third-year student at UC Davis, double majoring in Psychology and Human Development. Within my household, my parents always stressed on the importance of learning Spanish first, given that English in America is taught upon entering K-grade. As a bilingual speaker today, I acknowledge the gift of being able to communicate in two distinct tongues and the culture-oriented ties that are implemented in my everyday life. My interest in the language learning lab stems from my curiosity about infants’ ability to learn two languages at the same time, as my current work position enables me to work by a parent’s side to teach an infant Spanish and English. My goal is to continue to facilitate communication among people and help assist interaction among others. Aside from the lab, my hobbies include dancing and drawing.
Divya Khanna, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a third year Psychology and Human Development double major at UC Davis, who also studies Spanish! Growing up in California, I've spent all of my life mainly only hearing English, which is what inspired me to push myself to learn as much Spanish as I possibly could. Currently I've worked my way up to tutoring fellow students in Spanish at UC Davis and still have a strong passion for learning about language. Since I was really young I've always loved spending time around people, especially babies. While I am still exploring exactly what I'd like to do with my degree I know that I want to do something that involves working with children and understanding more about their development. For this reason I was drawn to the Language and Learning Lab and am very eager to expand my knowledge about language development! Outside of my school life, I work as a barista which allows me to continue interacting with people.
Anna Krueger, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a third year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Human Development and minoring in Human Physiology. I'm from Walnut Creek, CA and grew up in an English speaking household but I've always had a passion for language and would frequently accompany my siblings to their speech therapy sessions when I was younger and I witnessed from personal experience how language acquisition varies in all children. Before joining the Lab I worked with children in summer camps, childcare settings, and tutoring. Joining these passions fueled my motivation to join the Lab. I've gained lab experience through UC Davis Human Development research and I hope that through my love for children and research I can grow skills that I can use in my future career. In my free time I love to read, go on runs, pet my golden retriever, and bake!
Jacklyn Jardel, Undergraduate Research Assistant
I am a third year undergraduate student at UC Davis double majoring in Psychology and Cognitive Science with an emphasis in computation. I grew up in San Diego, where many people speak both Spanish and English, and many of my peers growing up speaking only Spanish at home and learned English when they started school. This made me very interested in learning different languages and the linguistic aspects of multilingualism. As I got older I also became very fascinated in psychology and human development. One aspect that intrigued me especially has always been language development and acquisition in children. In finding the Language Learning Lab, I saw it combined many of my different interests along with giving me an opportunity to further explore the research aspects of psychology. Outside of academics I enjoy embroidery, spending time with friends, and being outside.