Center for Language Science hosts local schools in Languages and Linguistics Day

Casey Fenton
May 31, 2017

On April 19, approximately 75 10th- and 11th-grade students from high schools in Centre County visited Penn State for the Center for Language Science’s (CLS) first Language and Linguistics Day. The students and their teachers participated in linguistic games, linguistics research and exciting discussions about language. The day culminated in a linguistics competition and a team from Bellefonte High School took the first prize.

Frances Blanchette, assistant director of the Center for Language Science, said, “Many high school students have never heard of the field of linguistics. They all take English classes and many take foreign languages too, but they typically don’t know there is a scientific field that studies language.”

At Penn State, faculty in Applied Linguistics, German, French, Psychology, and Spanish are among the world’s leading researchers in the field of linguistics and language science. CLS conducts groundbreaking research in language acquisition and bilingualism using advanced eye tracking technology, acoustic analysis, and electrophysiological recording of brain activity.

“We wanted to expose high school students to some of this research,” said Janet van Hell, CLS co-director. “And, we wanted to give them a chance to explore some of the fascinating questions in language science: What physical properties of the vocal tract make ‘bad’ sound different from ‘bat’? How do dialects develop? What causes slips of the tongue?”

Van Hell hoped the event would help students understand the connections between language and science. “So many students are passionate about language and also passionate about science, and we wanted to show them that there are fields where they can study both.”

Beyond just raising awareness, though, Blanchette explains that exposing students to language science and engaging them in linguistic inquiry can positively impact their academic literacy. “Metalinguistic awareness—an understanding of linguistic structure—supports reading comprehension, and examining language structure from a scientific perspective can give new insight into grammar conventions required by academic standards like the Common Core. In addition to exposing them to the language sciences, our Language and Linguistics Day workshops and games were designed to increase students’ awareness of language and linguistic structure in new and exciting ways.”

The high school students who attended agreed that the day was both exciting and filled with useful information and learning. As one participating high school teacher put it: “Students had a lot of fun participating in the competition! They said the workshops were "better than they expected" which was teen speak for "we thought this would be really boring but it was actually really informative!"

High Schools participating in the event included Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, State College, and Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy. CLS faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellow, graduate students, and undergraduate students all played a role in planning the event and in engaging high school students throughout the day. Next year’s Language and Linguistics Day is planned for Spring 2018.

For more information on the Center for Language Science, visit

For more information on the Linguistics Program at Penn State, visit

  • A team of students sits in a circle reviewing papers

    A team of local high school students participating in the first annual Language and Linguistics Day Competition.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 05, 2017