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Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Linguistic Development

Psychology and Philosophy major Aidan Gallegos ’21 researched bilingual cognition in an internship funded by the REAL program.

Psychology and Philosophy major Aidan Gallegos ’21 researched bilingual cognition in an internship funded by the REAL program.

by Sarah Stoddard ’23

Over the summer of 2020, Aidan Gallegos ’21 (Psychology and Philosophy) worked as a research lab assistant on a bilingual cognition study led by Santa Clara University’s Kirsten Read (Psychology). His internship, which was funded by the REAL program, allowed him to use the knowledge from his Psychology major and his Spanish minor to study how learning multiple languages impacts cognitive development and benefits the academic abilities of children. “As someone who started learning Spanish at age 6, I have always been passionate about bilingualism,” Gallegos says. He was able to use this passion to work on meaningful research that viewed linguistic development from a cross-cultural perspective, and in the process, he learned about his own cultural identity. 

“As a member of Dr. Read’s Linguistics Lab, my coworkers and I studied how bilingualism provides advantages in memory tasks and academic abilities for young students,” Gallegos explains. He spent his time studying readings and scholarly research on linguistic psychology, collecting data from families participating in the study, and conducting statistical analyses. Much of the knowledge and skills he used during his internship came from his studies for his psychology major. “Having the psychology background was extremely helpful because I understood research methods and statistical analysis,” he says. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the research had to be done virtually. This didn’t hinder the study, however—Gallegos even explains that it was beneficial in some ways, saying that, “Not being able to meet in-person has held us accountable for our work and ensured that we communicate well with one another.”

One of the most important skills Gallegos used was his knowledge of and passion for the Spanish language. “Many of the participants that we worked with speak Spanish at home with their families,” he says. He was able to communicate effectively with them, and the study benefited from this cross-cultural perspective. Gallegos was particularly interested in this aspect of his work. “In a sense, I felt like I was learning more about myself as a bilingual person and the experiences I had with learning Spanish from a young age,” he explains, reflecting on what he gained from the experience. “This work feels especially important in the Bay Area because it has a large Hispanic/Latino population,” he says. “It is a great feeling to know that we are connecting with other cultural backgrounds in the area and learning about the impact of bilingualism on education.”

Without the REAL program, this opportunity to conduct valuable research on bilingual cognition and make connections between local Spanish-speaking communities would not have been possible. Gallegos explains that during the pandemic, the REAL program, “provided so many students this opportunity to work virtually and constantly learn something new.” This experience furthered his passion for psychology and research and gave him valuable skills and knowledge that he hopes to use in his future career in clinical psychology. Gallegos hopes to keep utilizing his passion for the Spanish language and continue focusing on Spanish-speaking communities in the future. Ultimately, maintaining this cross-cultural perspective will allow him to conduct impactful research and gain a deeper understanding of his own cultural identity in the process.

About the REAL Program

The REAL Program provides paid experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences. Developed to allow students to discover their interests, gain a rich understanding of a particular field, discern their career goals, and explore future employment fields, the program has distributed nearly $1.7 million to more than 300 students across all majors since its inception in 2018. Placements range from non-profit and community service organizations to research labs, governmental organizations, and beyond.

REAL, student story, Class of 2021