Talking Turkish: Ph.D. Candidate Maya Rose Studies How Adults Best Learn a Second Language Online

Left: Getty Images. Right: Maya Rose (Courtesy of Rose)

From the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns, the internet has been filled with advice for adults seeking to use the time to learn a second language. Most people will tell you, it’s not so easy. But, as Ph.D. candidate Maya Rose, (Educational Psychology) points out, “Despite this difficulty, we know that college students and adults can successfully learn new languages.” 

Rose was just awarded a $12,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation for her study, "Does Speaking Improve Comprehension and Processing of a Foreign Language? A Computer-Assisted Language Learning and ERP Study." 

While previous work on this subject has focused on cognitive abilities as markers of language learning aptitude, less attention has been given to how specific learning tasks might promote language learning in adults. Rose explained that her study “focuses on the tasks learners engage in when learning a new language and asks specifically whether speaking, as opposed to just listening, promotes comprehension at the earliest stages of language learning.” 

The Graduate Center asked Rose about her research, what benefits it might hold for society, and what advice she has for other doctoral students seeking research grants.

The Graduate Center: Your research topic sounds fascinating. Can you describe it for non-linguistics specialists? What questions are you seeking to answer?

Rose: We use a computer-assisted language learning (CALL) protocol (delivered remotely during COVID) to teach college students a new language, in this case Turkish. Participants listen to Turkish question-answer dialogues while viewing corresponding pictures of scenes on their computer. What we vary across groups of participants is how they practice Turkish in their CALL lessons. After hearing a Turkish question, participants are required to do one of following: Generate an answer to the question in Turkish (retrieval practice); repeat the answer generated by the computer (listen and repeat practice); or listen to the answer generated by the computer and match it with a corresponding picture (forced-choice comprehension practice). 

We hypothesize that the retrieval practice group will outperform the other groups on their comprehension of Turkish after controlling for individual differences in language learning aptitude. Our hypothesis is based on research on the “testing effect,” which suggests that retrieving and generating answers to questions promotes consolidation of information in long-term memory, thus improving retention. 

GC: Do you see societal benefits from your research? 

Rose: While results of this study aim to inform theoretical models of second-language acquisition, they may also benefit society in a couple of ways. First, determining what learning tasks are most beneficial for second-language acquisition will inform the development of commercial language learning applications, such as Duolingo and Fluenz, and make them more effective for adult learners who often have limited opportunities to practice a new language. Second, by focusing on Turkish, we are developing materials for a language considered by the U.S. State Department to be critical for national security purposes. Lastly, by introducing college students to Turkish, we hope that the experience will foster interest in the language and promote further study. 

GC: You mentioned in a tweet that you "couldn't have done it" without your adviser Patricia Brooks (GC/College of Staten Island; Educational Psychology/Psychology). How did she help?

Rose: Dr. Brooks was the one who recommended I apply for the grant and served as a support system throughout the entire submission process. The NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement (DDRI) grant requires the applicant to write a one-page project summary along with a 10-page project description. As you can imagine, this is not a lot of space to describe the driving theories, research hypotheses, methods, statistical analyses, intellectual merit, and broader impacts of your project. I also worked with Valerie Shafer, a linguist in the Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences program at The Graduate Center, who helped me frame my project description in a way that would appeal to linguists. 

GC: Do you have advice for fellow students on applying for NSF grants, or grants in general?

Rose: Introduce yourself to the people who work in the GC’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and attend their information sessions. They have lots of useful templates to help you prepare the different components of the grant, including the budget, summary, and resources. Each funder has a different submission process, and it is important to follow their guidelines to a tee. The grants office will work with you to assure that all of the components of your grant are in the correct format before you submit. I worked with Edith Gonzalez, executive director of research, who was able to answer all of my questions about the submission process. She really reduced the stress associated with meeting the deadline! 

GC: Is there anything else you'd like to add? 

Rose: You won’t know if your grant will get funded unless you give it a try. Even if you do not get the grant on your first attempt, reviewers will provide informative feedback that you can use to improve your grant for a future submission. Also, I suggest talking with another graduate student who has already received a similar grant. They will know more about what the funding agency looks for in a successful grant application. 

Submitted on: JAN 13, 2021

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