(from left to right) Harriett Romo, associate professor of sociology at
UTSA and director of the UTSA Mexico Center; Maria Rodriguez, UTSA
Social Work graduate student; Ricardo de la Cruz, UTSA Sociology
graduate student; Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the University of
Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences; and Maritza
Rivera-Gaxiola, research assistant professor in the Institute for
Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington and a
collaborator on the Bilingual Baby project.

Bilingual and bicultural infant project continues this summer

By Alison Beshur
Public Affairs Specialist

(Aug. 10, 2006)--Harriett Romo, UTSA professor of sociology and director of the UTSA Mexico Center, and two UTSA graduate students recently traveled to Seattle, where they are collaborating with University of Washington (UW) researchers to study language acquisition in bilingual infants.

Romo and the UTSA students - Ricardo De La Cruz and María Rodriguez - have observed and studied the effects of cultural and social environments and influences on language acquisition in bilingual families. Researchers at the Institute for Learning and Brain Studies (ILABS) at the University of Washington have documented electrical brain activity and the neuroscientific component of language recognition and acquisition in the same study group.

"This trip allowed us to bring together two strands of research - the sociocultural domain and the biological," Romo said. "UW faculty complimented our students for thinking conceptually and presenting themselves professionally. They've recommended our project for a supplemental grant to continue following the babies."

The research collaborative between UTSA and UW is a part of the Learning Informal and Formal Environments (or LIFE) center established with a portion of a $36.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to further understanding about the way people learn.

UTSA's research has centered on 30 families of Mexican descent with infants and varying incomes and levels of English-Spanish language use.

"A lot of interesting things are happening in their (babies) brains, although they are not verbal yet," Romo said. "It's advanced processing. They're building and developing concepts and words before they are talking."

For example, some infants will wave when they hear "bye, bye" and pick up a shoe when they hear "chancla" (Spanish word for sandle).

During their visit last week, De La Cruz presented a master's degree research thesis on a comparison of family and community influences for high school students who haven't maintained Spanish language use and those who have.

Rodriguez, one of a handful of graduate students working with Romo on the research, presented findings on Communicative Developmental Inventory (or CDI). In her study, Rodriguez identified concepts and words spoken by the infants in the UTSA study group.