This Blog is part of our “Get to Know Our Ambassadors” Series. Each week, we’ll highlight a new Ambassador to help students understand more about the diversity of people and research projects available to students.

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Quick! How many Qs are in OOOQOQOOQOQO and how many Ps are in PRPRPPRRPRPRP? How about Ts in TKKKTKTKKTKT?

Also, say out loud the colour of the letters in this word: red. Did you say “red” or “green”? And if you said “green” how long did it take? Now, say the colour of the word green! Were you faster?

If you’re wondering why the neurons in your brain seem to be wrestling to try and answer the above questions as quickly as possible, don’t fear, because I’m here!

My PhD is in Psychological Sciences, specifically in Psycholinguistics. Psycholinguists look at how the brain responds and elaborates language. It can be any kind of language: oral communication, written texts, sign language – some of us even study emojis!

My research explores whether individuals speaking different languages (for example, Italian, Australian, or German) process different letters or syllables (which we call sublexical units). Some questions I’m trying to answer are: Are reading mechanisms similar across languages? If there are similarities, what would the differences be instead? I’ve come all the way from Italy to discover more about this idea!

The reason why I am so fascinated about this is that, as far away as it seems from our daily lives, revealing how the brains of skilled readers process language can help us develop more efficient teaching strategies for children learning to read, especially for those struggling to do so. For example, have you ever noticed how difficult it is for some children to spell words correctly when they first start to learn? The results from my research can help guide literacy programs in different countries.

Even though this sounds like a difficult process to explore, working with Arludo and the game Psych Tests allows me to run similar experiments with your students as I do in the lab! In Psych tests, there are two different minigames called ‘Visual Search’, where we look at how challenging it is to identify a specific letter when it’s among similar or dissimilar ones, and ‘Stroop Effect’ where we will try to separate a word’s meaning from its form.

Some of these may be easier tasks than others, but together we can explore the different factors that help our brains interpret the world. Who knows, maybe some of your students might want to become linguists too!

Written by Elisabetta De Simone

Elisabetta is a PhD Candidate from Macquarie University, Australia and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Germany. She is researching how skilled readers across languages process sublexical units such as letters and syllables, to understand how different linguistic backgrounds change reading mechanisms in the mind.