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A Solid Phonology Foundation for Adolescents is Critical

December 15, 2015

The ability to produce and perceive spoken languages is like the foundation of a house — it is something children are doing from the moment they are born. Throughout the rest of their lives, children expand their knowledge and understanding of language, which will change the way they perceive and produce sounds. According to Professor Ben Munson, children with small vocabularies are at risk for developing academic disabilities in their future. In an effort to resolve this problem, Munson is conducting research to learn what it takes to solidify children’s phonology foundation.

Munson is in the midst of finishing a large longitudinal study of the relationships between phonology and children who are still acquiring basic language skills. Munson’s research examines many questions: How do children learn to make expectations of how men and women speak differently? How does the relationship between the processing of social and linguistic signals of speech play out in development?

By using a number of behavioral measures, such as eye-tracking to measure speech perception and nonword repetition, he hopes to better understand how speech production and speech perception grow throughout the years and help with word learning.

Munson’s focus is on children with hearing impairments, late talkers, kids in low-income households, and normal hearing children in middle-income households. “I like working with people who have the most to gain and the most to lose,” Munson says.

His research also provides unique opportunities for his students. Munson has had over 50 students working on research with him, including more than 15 undergraduates. As research assistants, the students get training in the kind of work that they will do in their profession, as well as preparation for grad school, should they pursue that path. The students learn data management and teamwork while working relatively independently.

Munson says his research and teaching intersect often, especially at a top research institution like the University of Minnesota. “They're both about the creation of knowledge. Teaching forces us to think deeply about the topics we are studying, and the questions from students often spur new research projects,” he says. “Moreover, the reverse happens, too. I can present something in class from my research lab, and it inspires students to think differently from how they would if they just read about it in a textbook."


This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.