Meet the team

Our team currently consists of three post-doctoral researchers, two PhD students, and a number of undergraduate project students.

Post-docs

Dr Eva Viviani

I’m interested in understanding how people learn, represent and process  (written) language. In the Language Learning lab, my research focuses on the effects of the linguistic distribution and linear order on generalisation.

Short biography

I started as a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellow in the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL in February 2020, then I moved with Liz to the University of Oxford — Department of Education — in Septemper 2020. Before this, I completed my PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at SISSA with Davide Crepaldi. My PhD was about the the development and refinement of visual processing mechanisms originally employed to identify everyday objects, and then adapted to reading words. Aside from that, I’m interested in many things. As an undergraduate in Psychology at University of Parma, Italy, for example, I focused on learning to draw and the mechanisms that support vision-for-action supervised by Nicola Bruno.

I’m a gamer, writer and avid music listener. Dancing and cooking are other passions of mine, not both at the same time though.

Dr Catriona Silvey

catriona-silvey

My research focuses on how children learn and generalise the meanings of words, and how the structure of word meanings changes as languages are culturally transmitted and used for communication. I’m also interested in whether these processes of cultural transmission and communication can explain the origins of abstract concepts that may not be easily accessible without language, such as the meanings of relational words, and how the acquisition of these concepts may support higher order thinking. My full website is here.

Short biography
I’m originally from Scotland; I grew up in Perthshire and in Derbyshire, England. I did my undergraduate degree in English at the University of Cambridge. After a Masters at the University of Chicago and a spell working in academic publishing at the Public Library of Science, I moved to Edinburgh for an MSc in Evolution of Language and Cognition and a PhD in Linguistics. I then returned to the University of Chicago as a postdoc in Susan Goldin-Meadow’s lab before coming to UCL as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow.

Dr Gwen Brekelmans

GwenBrekelmans_pic

My research focuses on how children learn new sounds of a second or foreign language, and in particular the vowels. What I try to find out is how differences in the training method affect their learning patterns, and how children differ from adults in this.

I finished my PhD in the Language Learning Lab in 2020 (see here for a copy of my thesis), and continue to work in the lab as an RA and the Lab Manager. You can find my website here.

Short biography
I grew up in the Netherlands, and did an undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature at Radboud University Nijmegen, followed by a research master’s degree in Linguistics focusing on phonetics and second language acquisition at the same university, before I came over to London to do my PhD at UCL.

PhD students

Felicia Daniela Singh

daniela_croppedMy research interests lie in the learning mechanisms that underlie spelling development and individual differences in these mechanisms between people that, once identified, can help us design efficient intervention programs. My focus is on the less explored ability to learn incidentally via implicit learning processes that must operate alongside learning of spelling patterns through explicit teaching. What types of regularities do we learn and when do we become sensitive to them? To answer these questions, my experiments are designed to induce incidental learning of various artificial spelling patterns in both children and adults.

Short biography
I grew up in Transylvania, in a bilingual family (Romanian-Hungarian) and received a BA (Hons) in Business and Languages degree from Oxford Brookes University (in association with International Business School in Budapest), in 2004. In 2015, after a period of working as a research analyst and then nurturing my two children (ongoing), I received an MSc in Language Sciences from UCL and am now doing my PhD in the Language Learning Lab.

Maša Vujović

masaI am interested in how biases which learners bring to the task of language learning might shape language structure, and whether these biases are different for learners of different age. I combine several approaches to look at this: artificial language learning experiments, silent gesture experiments, and computational modelling. My website can be found here.

Short biography
Before starting my PhD in the Language Learning Lab in 2016, I completed an MRes in Speech, Language and Cognition here at UCL (2016), and an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh (2015). I am originally from Montenegro, and I also lived in Slovenia, where I finished high school.

Alumni

Dr Anna Samara

anna_photo_website

Anna was a postdoc in the lab from 2014-2019. She now works as a lecturer at the University of Greenwich.

Broadly speaking, my research addresses questions about literacy development and impairment. I am particularly interested in typically developing children’s ability to pick up on statistical patterns within and between sound and letter combinations: these patterns are replete in one’s orthography yet they are not always explicitly taught (e.g., “final consonants are more frequently doubled after single vowels than double vowels”; e.g. Jeff vs deaf). Previous and ongoing experiments probe precisely what patterns young spellers can learn and under what circumstances, to shed light on underlying learning mechanisms. I am also interested in literacy impairment. For example, some of my previous work has rigorously investigated the putative statistical learning difficulties of dyslexic adults and whether they underpin their reading and spelling difficulties.

Short biography
I completed my PhD in Psychology in 2014 at Bangor University, UK. In my doctoral research, I introduced an experimental methodology using artificial language stimuli to explore whether statistical learning mechanisms (which have been well-studied in the area of spoken language development) have relevance for spelling development. After my PhD, I was a postdoctoral Research Associate in the Language Learning lab on a number of projects that investigate children’s ability to extract statistical patterns from spoken input. My earlier work (2014-2017) (together with Dr Wonnacott and Dr Kenny Smith at the University of Edinburgh) looked at children’s ability to learn statistically based sociolinguistic cues that condition the use of variation in natural languages (i.e., learning that different speakers, e.g., speakers of a specific dialect, tend to use different linguistic variants). My later work (2017-2019) was on an ERC funded project, awarded to Professor Ben Ambridge (University of Liverpool) that investigated what types of linguistic input discourage children from producing ungrammatical sentences of the type “The funny clown laughed the man”.

Jo Saul

saul-300px
MSc student 2015-2016, now PhD student at UCL with Prof Courtenay Norbury.

Hanyu Dong

hanyu_cropped

My main research question is how individual differences (e.g. tone perception ability, working memory, attention and musical ability) might affect second language learning of Mandarin lexical tones and words. I also aim to develop a more effective and practical training method for second language learning.

I finished my PhD in the Language Learning Lab in 2020 (see here for a copy of my thesis). I now work as a online content developer at UCL.

Short biography
I was born in China and came to the UK when I was 18. I did my undergraduate in Experimental Psychology at University of Bristol, followed by a Master’s in Language Science at UCL. I carried on as a PhD student at UCL at the Language Learning Lab.