Gigi Luk's research on the cognitive and neural consequences of bilingualism extends across the lifespan. She leads a research program that examines how diverse language experiences shapes development and learning. Using neuroimaging and behavioral methods, Luk studies bilingualism as an interactional experience that shapes cognition. In addition to investigating the science of bilingualism, Luk has examined how to harness scientific findings on bilingualism to improve educational experience for children from diverse language backgrounds. In particular, she has established a research program investigating: (1) effective ways to measure bilingualism in schools; (2) how bilingualism and executive functions interact to influence language and literacy outcomes; and (3) relationship between academic outcomes, quality and quantity of bilingual experience. Luk obtained her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from York University, Canada in 2008. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Center. Luk joined the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011.
For a list of publications, please visit, the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Please visit, the Brain.Experience.Education (B.E.E.) Lab, for more information.
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With an increasingly linguistically-diverse population in schools, it is important to understand childrens language background and its relation to learning. During kindergarten registration, across districts and states, educators often focus on English proficiency when accounting for incoming students diverse language experiences. Despite the different home language surveys adopted by districts and states, parental indication of whether English is spoken at home is the primary information to establish childrens language background while other home-related language and literacy information is not taken into account. In addition, teachers do not often receive childrens language background information prior to the first day of school, making pedagogical preparation challenging. The proposed project will test how supplementary home language and literacy information facilitate educationally planning. To maximize information collected, proposed questions are designed to capture gradient as opposed to categorical responses. Educators feedback and kindergarten assessments will be combined to determine the value of providing additional information on home language and literacy environments before school begins. Findings will contribute to discovering what home language information should be collected, how to make use of this information to enrich childrens learning, and what the link is between diverse language experience and learning.
During the tenure of the fellowship, I conducted a secondary data analysis and an empirical study to examine bilingualism in education. First, I conducted an analysis on 3rd grade students language background and state exam performance in English language arts and mathematics. Results suggest that there is considerable variability among English-proficient students. Most importantly, English-proficient bilingual students who reported a non-English language as first language attained higher scores in state exams compared to students reported English as their first language and English language learners. Second, in the empirical study, my team and I examined the relationship between executive functions, bilingualism, and reading comprehension in elementary school students. Our results suggest that children who speak primarily a non-English language at home recruited executive functions to support their reading comprehension despite of their lower English vocabulary scores. These two studies highlight that home language background provides important information beyond students English proficiency. It is clear that variation in bilingual experience is associated with childrens language and cognitive development, which indirectly influence academic outcomes. Therefore, it is imperative for educators to understand how bilingual experience shapes childrens development in order to design linguistically- and developmentally-sensitive pedagogy to best support children with diverse language backgrounds.
Previous research typically compares bilingual to monolingual individuals and often in one of the two languages spoken by bilinguals. It is likely that bilingual samples are inherently more heterogeneous, compared to monolingual samples, particularly in language performance. Recognizing the diversity in bilingual populations, beyond English proficiency, is imperative for gaining a comprehensive understanding of language and cognition in emerging or fluent bilinguals. Furthermore, previous research generally focused on documenting bilingual childrens language or cognitive abilities, but rarely both. Often, most of the language assessments are administered in English, usually a second or non-native language of bilingual children. Particularly for emerging bilinguals, language assessments alone may not reflect meaningful information about a childs learning potential. In education settings that are linguistically diverse, it is challenging to assess language competency in all represented heritage languages. One possibility is to assess cognitive ability with measures that rely on minimal language processing beyond comprehension of the instructions in childrens preferred home, or heritage, language. The present study was designed (1) to evaluate the relationship between home language environment, executive functions, and pre-literacy skills in Spanish-English bilingual preschoolers; (2) to test the feasibility of the language and background questionnaires for parents.