Module taken in Sem 2, AY2014/15
Language and Cognitive Processes
Lecturer: Dr. Susan Rickard Liow
Lecturer Review: Before I start, you should probably know that 2 main lecturers take turns teaching this module: Dr. Susan Rickard Liow and Dr. Melvin Yap. As their specialisations are very different, you should expect the module to differ quite significantly in terms of content and teaching styles between the two professors.
Dr. Susan is, for one, extremely knowledgeable about nearly everything involving psycholinguistics. From neurocognitive models to neuro-architecture to developmental trajectories of language acquisition to general linguistics across multiple languages, Prof. Susan is the lecturer that knows everything. This means that lectures will be very loaded with concepts that you have to catch on to fast, because Prof. Susan will sometimes lecture with the assumption that you know -everything- that has been taught or glossed over. The fast learners will be in for an intellectual ride (and it really is exciting) but you may find yourself running out of steam trying to follow her train of thought. This also means that you may be facing finals of equal or greater difficulty in comparison to PL3232 Biological Psychology.
This is, of course, due to the nature of the entire research area. There are so many things to talk about and Prof. Susan does, in my opinion, an excellent job tying all domains of psychology to language acquisition and usage. The result? Be prepared to plunge into pure neurocognitive psychology and linguistics terminology on your first lecture (the introduction part gets skimmed across because there’s no time) and be prepared to see 80-90 slides every lecture. You really can’t afford to skip lectures here.
As a lecturer, Prof. Susan often covers old ground – very essential to reinforce understanding – before covering the current lecture… which results in a sudden spike in lecturing speed in the last half of the lecture. She is, however, quite open to any email queries and she does provide quite a lot of assistance for weaker students (mid-terms below 20/30). I find her lectures quite entertaining and enlightening during the lighter portions, but there will be periods where the content overwhelms everyone in the class.
Tutorials: The TA, Rui Qi, will be your lifesaver. If you’re always lost in these lectures, the 5 tutorials are your best chance to catch up because the student and TA presentations will reinforce all the concepts taught in lectures, and clarify any concepts that Prof. Susan may have mentioned as a passing comment. Yes, there are less videos or shows to watch in tutorials unlike in some other modules, but you may plunge into a specific discussion that will be featured in the exams, or you may revisit some key terms which is critical in the midterms. Tutorials provide you with the examples, discussion points, knowledge…. everything you must know in the exams. Yes, including that one specific term that your TA tells you NOT to misspell. Love your TA and your classmates, because they will be the ones saving you from the deceptively hard finals.
Dr. Susan focuses heavily on developmental issues in language acquisition and retention, differences between monolinguals and multilinguals (and everyone else that falls within the spectrum, and atypical development in speaking, listening, reading and writing. If you are taking this module under Dr. Susan, prior knowledge in developmental, abnormal and cognitive psychology will help tremendously in understanding the module. Any background in linguistics studies (eg: H2 ELL) will help too. That said, you -don’t- need to have taken either of these modules.
However, I will say that this is -not- an easy module to master. This module is quite multidisciplinary and requires a lot of understanding for you to do decently. Peers that take this module are also generally interested in cognition and/or language in general, and/or have a certain understanding of linguistics. You can do well in this subject only by staying interested in the subject matter -and- putting in considerably more time reading and digesting the readings and concepts. Especially if you are starting from scratch, like I did.
You have no textbooks and just 1 course pack. Sounds good, right? The course pack contains 20 compulsory research papers, and a list of other supplementary papers that may illustrate that one cognitive model mentioned briefly in class. This doesn’t include the 60-90 slides handouts per lecture, and these handouts are summaries of certain concepts. In short, you have to read. A LOT. And you have to read beyond the suggested reading list, which brings your level of understanding up to pretty impressive levels. A solid grounding in PL2132 will help you grasp that 1 extremely perplexing paper. The initial slog to understand the jargon and general cognitive framework behind language processing is really tough, but if you can get past that stage, every paper will make a lot more sense.
10% – Tutorial Presentations x4 (Combined score)
30% – Mid-terms (Short answer)
60% – Final Exam (2 essays, 2nd qn 4C1)
I’ll start with the tutorial presentations. Your group of 4 or 5 has to present on a paper in the course pack every fortnight, which makes a total of 4 presentations. The good thing? Not everyone has to present every week so you can delegate presenter duties within your group! Every member must, of course, present in at least 1 of 4 presentations. The bad news? You only have FOUR slides to talk for 15 minutes, and the TA (Rui Qi) follows the rules very strictly! Given the general complexity of the papers, you have very little slides to clearly convey the vast amounts of content in the paper -and- attempt to answer the question given. It does seem a bit too much work for 10%, but bear in mind this is essential revision for the module, since all 16 presentations are basically summaries of the major papers in the field, and you will need to know at least 6-8 of them to handle at least 2 questions in the finals.
Exams constitute the lion’s share of the marks here, so you have to master the material really well. Prof. Susan likes to set manageable midterms and difficult finals – or, finals that require application, evaluation or integration of studied material. For my year, a certain concept mentioned in the guest lecture is specifically tested in the finals: this may be indicative that you should pay attention to guest lectures. There are too many models to master in the module, but you need only understand the key deviations between these different models and the main model to answer your essay questions. You MUST, however, know the main model inside out if you even wish to pass your exams.
Midterms tend to have a steep bell curve, with the mean being 25/30. Finals questions are, honestly, not forgiving to spotters or students who are under-prepared. Just don’t be caught with your pants down.
PL3237 under Prof. Susan is not an easy module. It is, however, an extremely fruitful lecture that allows you to appreciate language and psychological issues that revolve around how one picks up, uses and loses language. If you’ve always wondered how we learn to speak and listen, and why humans differ so much in linguistic abilities, and how cognition fits in with language processing, this is the module for you. Your ability to read this, and other reviews, is reflective of the relevance of language processing in our lives. I recommend this module to those who are motivated in studying language processing, and who can find joy in reading about how we read and understand these words of wisdom.