The Way We Learn
Monica Barbir, postdoc at IRCN Babylab, received a PSL Special Jury Prize in the ‘Science and Humanities Interface’ category for her PhD thesis “The Way We Learn”. PSL Prizes are awarded to the best doctoral work, completed at any university in the world, in a variety of fields.
In her thesis, Monica Barbir identifies a potential gap between what we think we know about language and what may actually be needed for cognitive processing of language. She explores the repercussions this gap may have on learning and teaching languages, as well as on scientific measurements of language development. In a series of experiments, she investigates what is needed for knowledge, the tipping point between learning and knowing, and the kind of knowledge we desire. For example, she finds that infants learn a novel grammatical rule after hearing just a handful of examples, and just as quickly begin using this rule to scaffold learning of other aspects of language, namely word meanings. Monica Barbir advances the conclusion that to better understand how we learn, we need to reframe the language learning task from the point of view of the learner. And maybe in so doing, acquiring language might turn out to be less insurmountable than we thought.