How does this word look to you?

By Weronika Walkowiak, research assistant with the Language Scientists

In the captivating realm of linguistics and cognitive science, perception plays a significant role in shaping our understanding of things around us. Season two of The Language Scientists podcast starts with a fascinating episode that focuses on the intricacies of perception in context of language – focusing on how the languages we already know influence how we learn another language when looking at written words (in research terms: cross-linguistic orthographic similarities).

The episode commences by delving into the domain of visual word recognition. Dr Zavaleta and Dr Bisson dissect the processes involved in how our brains interpret and recognize written words based on Dr Bisson’s recent publication (Bisson, 2022) on learning words with familiar orthography to the one in learner’s native language. In her research, Dr Bisson found that words that were rated as being very similar to those of the participant’s language were much easier to learn compared to those rated as dissimilar. Listeners of the podcast can then understand how the variations in orthographic structure can impact word recognition, shedding a light on the complex interplay of visual recognition in learning processes. Drawing upon the insights from the psycholinguistic research, the episode then focuses on the impact of the cross-linguistic orthographic similarities on different learning situations – either incidental or intentional learning.

The Language Scientists do not stop at the theoretical discussion, but they also highlight the practical implications of the visual linguistics. The hosts suggest that in the classroom setting, students would benefit from intentionally learning words that are dissimilar to their mother language, whereas the words that orthographically look similar to those in the learner’s native language, could be picked up incidentally by doing other activities and being exposed to the language.

In conclusion, season two of The Language Scientists podcast offers a fascinating exploration of visual linguistics, urging listeners to reflect on the visual aspects of language learning that often go unnoticed. Whether you are a language enthusiast, a psychologist, a language teacher or someone who is simply interested in the subtle nuances of communication, this episode offers a rich and rewarding listening experience. Tune in and discover the visual world of words that shapes our understanding of language here: S2: E1: How does this word look to you?.