by Megan Zhang
Paula Daneri is a doctoral student whose research focuses on cognitive and language development in early childhood. Keep reading for our interview with Paula!
What does your research focus on?
Broadly speaking I’m interested in the relation between language and executive function. Specifically, I’m interested in the development of executive function in dual language learners, children who learn a second language in early childhood. Dual language learners are a growing part of the population in the United States, but we don’t know much about their development. They are an interesting group because even though they have a salient common feature – speaking two languages – they come from many diverse backgrounds.
In your research, what have you found about dual language learners’ early executive function development?
Past research shows that dual language learners from middle-income homes develop certain executive function skills faster than their monolingual peers. We also know that growing up in poverty is associated with lower executive function skills. What we don’t yet know is how executive function develops in children who might get a boost in executive function development from bilingual experience, but are also vulnerable to developing lower executive function skills in a less advantaged environment. Currently, Clancy is a principal investigator on a project that explores executive function development in dual language learners from disadvantaged homes, so we are aiming to answer some of these questions once data collection is complete.
Prior to coming to NYU, I worked at a lab at my undergraduate institution where we examined related questions about the development of dual language learners. There, we were interested in examining how much exposure to the second language was necessary for bilingualism to yield benefits in executive function. At that lab, I participated in a project exploring executive function development in children of diverse socio-economic backgrounds attending either a dual immersion program, where they received half of their instruction in Spanish and half in English, or English-only education. We found that children in the dual immersion program outperformed children in the English-only program in executive function tasks, revealing that learning a second language during the elementary school years might yield benefits in executive function development.
What further questions regarding children’s language development do you hope to answer?
Under Clancy’s guidance, I have become very interested in how the relation between language and executive function develops in the first five years, both in dual language learners and monolingual children. This is a really exciting time period to study these two skills because they change very rapidly. We know that throughout this early time period dual language learners develop executive function skills faster than monolinguals, but we don’t yet know how this occurs. So in my research I would like to focus on the relation between language and executive function in early years to understand why speaking a second language is associated with a different rate of executive function development.
What is your ultimate career goal?
I’m still at the beginning of my graduate career, so my career goals are still developing. Right now I would say that ultimately I hope to become a professor and continue to elaborate on a research program that explores the cognitive and language development of dual language learners and provides policy makers, educators, and parents answers about how to best support the development of children who speak more than one language. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about how the lab works so that if I ever get to lead one, it can be as amazing as NEL!