Author Archives: Lauren Michelle Echols

Phonemes: The Accent Problem

From the time I was small child, I was absolutely fascinated with different cultures and languages. I swear that I got the travel bug at the tender age of five. This was when my family moved to Germany to accompany my father on a three-month business trip. Ever since then I have loved to travel and immerse myself in different cultures. In high school I was so enthralled with the idea of traveling that I applied to be an exchange student and so I ended up spending my senior year of high school in a small town just an hour outside of Barcelona, Spain.

Upon arriving, I had almost no knowledge of Spanish. I was constantly bombarded with the sounds of a foreign tongue, one that I was able to hear and perceive, but unable to understand. I would later learn that this was because I was unable to properly convert the sound waves that I was receiving and perceiving into information that I could understand (Goldstein, 2011). But within just a few days, I began pick up on the similarities between English and Spanish (and quite frankly every other language). As mentioned by Goldstein (2011), all human languages are similar in two very important ways: they are governed by rules (although, a different set of rules) and hierarchical. These two things were what allowed me to begin to learn Spanish. Soon after arriving, I realized that I would need to learn these new rules in order to be able to efficiently communicate with those around me. I also realized that by learning vocabulary, I could slowly build up my language skills to be able to fully able to express whatever I wanted to (Goldstein, 2011). After just three months I was fluent enough to be able to hold a conversation about almost any subject. However, throughout the year I heard the same phrase over and over again, “You speak very well, but you still have a strong foreign accent.” The only problem was that I couldn’t hear the accent myself and I still cannot today. This is due to something called phonemes.

According to Goldstein (2011), phonemes are the sounds that you produce when you speak words. According to Birner (1999), this problem plagues many people who become multilingual later in life due to the fact that some of the sounds made in other languages undoubtedly don’t exist in one’s native language. Interestingly, babies actually begin to babble in the phonemes of all languages when they learn to babble, however by around nine months of age, they begin to babble in the phonemes of the native language that they most frequently hear. By the time a baby is one year old, they loose the ability to distinguish between sounds that aren’t relevant in their own language. After doing some research on this subject, I was happy to find out that this wasn’t an unusual phenomenon that I was experiencing. It just happens to be that I am not as readily able to hear (meaning that I can’t always distinguish between the sounds that I make when I speak and the sounds that native speakers make) and make all of the sounds in Spanish. Luckily though, due to the way in which people perceive words, native Spanish speakers are able to understand the words that I mispronounce (due to phoneme mispronunciations) by relying on the context of the other words used in the sentence (Goldstein, 2011).

Although, my time in Spain may not have lessened my foreign accent, nonetheless, I am ultimately able to achieve the overarching goal of learning a new language: communicating with others.



Goldstein, E. Bruce. “Perception.” Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Third ed. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. 51-57. Print.

Birner, Betty, ed. Why Do Some People Have an Accent? Washington, D.C.: Linguistic Society of America, 1999. Linguistic Society of America. Linguistic Society of America. Web. 30 July 2016. <>.

Multitasking: The Art of Divided Attention

It’s four o’clock and its finally time to clock out. I walk out to my car, turn it on, back out and quickly make my way home. This is my schedule every single day during the summer. At the beginning of every summer I notice that it takes a few days, sometimes even a week or so to get back into my usual routine. But it isn’t long until my routine starts to become automatic. It’s so automatic that I often find myself attending to other thoughts in my brain on my way home as opposed to focusing on the road and almost everyday I find that when I pull into my driveway, I can’t remember passing by certain landmarks, changing lanes, or even turning into my neighborhood.

This peculiar phenomenon reminded me of the subject of attention, which was covered in Cognitive Psychology in chapter four. This chapter mentioned the human ability to multitask, which can be done through divided attention. The book mentions that practice allows us to be able to effectively divide our attention between two or more things. For me on my daily drive home, those two things happen to be driving and thinking deeply about things that don’t pertain to my driving. Just as was mentioned in the book, the immense amount of times that I have “practiced” my drive home and the simplicity of it has resulted in it becoming somewhat of an automatic process, which then allows me to think about other things while I’m driving and later causes me to question how I arrived home in the first place (Goldstein, 2011).

However, there are other processes that don’t seem to come as easily to me, such as reading and retaining all of the information that I read. I often experience moments when reading for a class, for example, in which I am reading and suddenly my attention grazes off to something else and I can’t remember what I just read. In this instance my mind automatically follows the words because reading has become an automatic process, however comprehending the words is another story. In terms of comprehending what I have read, my mind would have to partake in controlled processing, which according to the book is something that one must pay attention to at all times (Goldstein, 2011).

In conclusion, we are constantly faced with things that require our attention. Some skills through practice become automatic, but the more difficult skills must be controlled.


Goldstein, E. Bruce. “Perception.” Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Third ed. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. 51-57. Print.

The Power of Localization of Function

Over the past two weeks, this course has focused on the importance of the brain as the processing center in the human body. We have learned that thanks to our brain, we are able to turn energy from our environment into energy that our brain can understand and use in addition to previously stored knowledge in order to interpret the world around us quite efficiently (Elbich, Lesson 3: Perception). The brain, which is a highly complicated organ, makes all of this possible. Each and every part of the brain serves a special purpose and allows us to be the highly sophisticated animals that we are by constantly taking in information, analyzing it and sending it to other parts of our brain and body (Goldstein, 2011). However, what happens when the brain is not able to pass this information on correctly?

Well, I myself have witnessed such a thing. My mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous which often disrupts the connections that the brain makes with the rest of the body by damaging the myelin that insulates the nerve fibers and allows for messages in the form of energy to be sent throughout the body via the 180 billion neurons that are found in our brain (Definition of MS; Goldstein, 2011). The degradation of the myelin of different neurons takes places at different times, leaving certain neurons unable to properly send signals to other parts of the brain and body. However, the location of the damaged neurons is key because just as we learned in Chapter 2, many specific areas of the brain serve specific functions. That being said, merely by studying the location of the damage that specific neurons in my mother’s brain have sustained due to this disease, doctors are able to decipher and understand the affects that this has on my mother’s brain function and mobility. For example, she has sustained damage to several neurons in her occipital lobe, which we learned functions as the primary receiving area for vision (Goldstein, 2011). For this reason, she is legally blind in one eye, despite the fact that she has no damage to her actual eye. Instead, she is able to receive the energy from the cones and rods in her eyes and convert them into action potentials that should in theory pass on to other neurons throughout her brain in order to interpret what she is seeing, however these messages are typically not able to pass on due to the lack of insulation that certain neurons have and therefore she is unable to actually pass this information on in her brain therefore making her unable to completely interpret the information she receives from her occipital lobe(Elbich, 2016). Due to the locations of the damage she has sustained, one is able to fully understand where the connections in the brain are cut off, which directly explains the loss of functioning that she experiences in different parts of her mind and body (Elbich, 2016; Goldstein, 2011).

All in all, the brain is an extremely fascinating organism. It has the power to control the human body and mind with much precision, however damage to the brain is somewhat catastrophic because as we have learned in the past two weeks, every part of the brain serves a very specific function and sometimes many functions at once, and damage such as that caused by multiple sclerosis can change the way in which our brain is able to take-in, understand and interpret things about ourselves and the world around us.


Definition of MS. (n.d.). Retrieved on June 27, 2016 from                                                

Elbich, D. (2016) Lesson 3: Perception. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web site:   

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Chapter 2: Cognitive Neuroscience. Cognitive Psychology:                   Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience (3rd ed.)(pp. 23 – 45). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.