Research Team

Dr. Katharine Graf Estes, Principal Investigator - Lab Director

Infants are immersed in a world of immense complexity, yet they display knowledge of the people, objects, actions, and sounds in their environments very early in life. My research explores the mechanisms that support this early learning. In particular, the ability to detect statistical regularities may play a fundamental role in how infants learn about a highly complex, highly salient aspect of the auditory world: language. Infants become especially attuned to regularities in the sound patterns of the ambient language, including its phoneme distinctions, sound combinations within words, and its cues to word boundaries in fluent speech. Thus, when infants begin to understand and produce words, they do not start as a blank slate. I am investigating how infants learn from statistical regularities in the language they hear and the nature of what they learn.

Erica Verde, Graduate Student


I am a sixth year doctoral student in the developmental area in the psychology department. A simultaneous English-Spanish bilingual originally from Miami, I hold a bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Miami and a master's degree in Linguistics from Florida International University. Before joining the Language Learning Lab, I managed an infant language lab at Stanford University under Dr. Anne Fernald, as well as the ISI bilingual language processing lab under Dr. Paola Dussias at the Pennsylvania State University. I am broadly interested in lexical and semantic acquisition and processing in both monolingual and bilingual populations. In particular, I hope to explore the role of statistical learning in these processes and how variability in the input affects infants' ability to recognize meaningful language features.

Andrea Ramirez Barajas, Doctoral Candidate


I am a fourth year doctoral student in the Developmental area in the Psychology department. I graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Spanish and Psychology B.A. Before starting my PhD at the lab, I worked as a McNair Scholar for two years with Dr. Graf Estes where I was able to conduct and present research in infant bilingual language acquisition. I am broadly interested in the variations in lexical and acoustic properties in a bilingual as well as a monolingual population. More specifically, I’m interested in parent-child interactions and the effect the parent’s speech has on their infant’s language development in a social context. ​

Isabelle Pai, Graduate Student


​I am a second year Ph.D. student in developmental psychology. I come from an Economics research background, with a B.A. in Economics from New York University and research experience at Nielsen and GfK after graduation. I received my Master’s degree in Developmental Psychology, with a Cognitive Development concentration, from Cornell University in 2020. My primary research interest is in Cognitive Development, particularly the development of information processing and language acquisition. I plan to study how infants and young children acquire language - how they learn semantic and pragmatic concepts, how they form abstract relations and how this acquisition facilitates their thought formation. I am particularly interested in understanding cognate facilitation and transference of inputs between the dominant and heritage language. In the Language Learning lab, I’d like to investigate the semantic and pragmatic differences in cognates and how the difference affects the way bilingual children form different abstract relations. In my spare time, I enjoy attending symphonies, cold weather sports such as hockey, figure skating, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing, and spending time in nature.

Jenna DiStefano, Graduate Student


I am a first year psychology doctoral student in the developmental area. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in Psychology, minoring in ASL/Deaf Studies and Education. Before joining the lab as a PhD student, I worked as a lab manager for Dr. Duane Watson at Vanderbilt University, supporting studies relating to language and cognition. My current research interests broadly relate to infant language acquisition. More specifically, I am interested in the language acquisition of Deaf infant populations learning American Sign Language (ASL) -- especially those who live in a predominantly hearing social environment.

Yaritzi Cuevas Lua, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I am a fourth-year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology and minoring in  Human Development and Spanish. Being raised by immigrant parents originally from Mexico,  my mother tongue is Spanish, and I learned English upon entering elementary school. Growing  up with a large extended family, I have been able to observe how several of my relatives who  were exposed to the same degree of Spanish did not grasp the language to the same magnitude. I  have always wondered what could have been the causes of the noticeable differences in fluency.  I am thrilled to be a part of the Language and Learning Lab not only for the opportunity to gain  research experience, but also for the ability to strengthen my understanding of the underlying  factors behind monolingual versus bilingual language development in children. Outside of my  academics, I enjoy playing basketball, going to the beach, and spending time with my friends and  family. I am still undecided on what I want to pursue after completing my undergrad, but I hope  my time in this lab can help guide me towards a pathway to a career I can enjoy.  ​

Angelica Gomez, Undergraduate Research Assistant


I am a fourth-year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology. I am from Los Angeles and grew up speaking mostly Spanish. When I started going to school, I was taught more English and was put into speech therapy, which helped me in English, but not in Spanish. As I got older, and while my Spanish wasn't the best, it has greatly improved. It is because of that I want to learn more about how language is developed and hopefully help other children in the future with similar experiences like mine. In my free time, I like painting and listening to music.

Eileen Nayeli De Jesus, Undergraduate Research Assistant

​I am a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology. I am from Southern California, specifically from the San Fernando Valley area. I was taught how to speak both English and Spanish as a child. I have always been fascinated by how children learn and interact with the world and people around them. I have also always been interested in how children, especially at a young age are able to learn and understand multiple languages. The studies being done at the Language Learning Lab blew me away because the studies focused on the impacts of being a bilingual and monolingual child. I am eager to begin working at the Language Learning Lab and to gain experience working with children. After graduation I plan on attending graduate school back in Southern California and become a school psychologist. Outside of the lab I enjoy spending time with my dog Luna, trying new restaurants and local coffee shops.

Sabrina Macias, Undergraduate Undergraduate Research Assistant


I am a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Linguistics and Psychology, and minoring in Chicano Studies. My career goal is to become a speech pathologist for children. I always knew I wanted to work with children, and once I learned about developmental psychology, specifically language, I gravitated towards learning about how children acquire language and how much their abilities increase within their first years of life. I have dealt with my own speech impediments at a very young age, and with the help of a speech pathologist I was able to improve my abilities. In the future I hope to work with infants and young children and get a chance to better develop their cognitive abilities like those who helped me. I am excited to work with the Language Learning Lab because I believe it will further my understanding about language and how I will be able to apply this knowledge in the future. Outside of academics, I enjoy going on hikes and dancing for the UC Davis Danzantes del Alma Folklorico group.

Clariss Bolanos, Undergraduate Research Assistant ​


I am a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Human Development and psychology at UC Davis. I was born in San Francisco, and I was raised in the Bay Area by my parents who have immigrated from the Philippines. They are a big influence to me as they support me in my journey as a first-generation college student. My academic and career goals include working with children with communication and speech disorders. I was drawn by the Language Learning Lab because I am fascinated by the process in which infants and young children acquire language and communication skills. I am also interested in studying multilingual acquisition in children. I was fortunate to grow up in a diverse community since I was exposed to a variety of languages growing up, and this fueled my interest in linguistics and my life-goal to become fluent in many different languages. I love working with children. I have worked with children of all ages in the education and arts field, and I hope to gain more experience during my time at the lab. In my free time I like to play guitar, make music, and spend time outdoors.

Kaylahnie Palencia, Undergraduate Research Assistant ​


I am a fourth-year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Rights and Political Science. I have been helping coordinate and put on children’s youth sports programs for about three years. I am also a nanny, and grew up as the eldest of four children in my household! The entirety of my life has been dedicated to working with, watching, and assisting children with their own growth curves and encouraging their development. Child development at all levels is not only something I am passionate about, but am genuinely curious to understand at a deeper level. This curiosity is what brought me to the Language Learning Lab, as well as their efforts to understand a very major part of development I have watched occur in siblings, students, friends, and family before. I am extremely excited to be joining a lab that aligns with my interests, and hope to continue to pursue knowledge and learning for as long as life allows!

Manpreet Ugra, Undergraduate Research Assistant


I am a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and minoring in Psychology. I grew up speaking Punjabi and English. I became interested in joining the Language Learning Lab to learn more about language development as I come from a bilingual background and it has always intrigued me how children learn their native language and understand more than one language. I have been able to see language development with some of my baby nieces and nephews who are bilingual which has given me some insight on the impact of the environment on language acquisition. In the future, I hope to be fluent in more languages and be able to apply research skills to a future career as a physician assistant. I am excited to interact with the babies and gain more knowledge about language learning! In my free time, I enjoy baking, watching basketball, and hanging out with my friends!

Cytlali Ballesteros, Undergraduate Research Assistant


I am a fourth-year undergraduate student at UC Davis double majoring in Psychology and Chicanx Studies. I was born and raised in the LA County. I come from a mixed-status family and my first language is Spanish. I had such a difficult time when I started preschool because I did not understand English. This challenge caused me to be afraid to speak up and ask for help in order to avoid judgement. Which is why I am so excited to be a part of the Language Learning Lab. I hope to learn more about children’s language development in order to help and support those with similar experiences as me. In the future, I hope to attend graduate school to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I plan on working with the Latinx community to promote healing and to work together to create safe and healthy developmental environments for our children. In my free time I enjoy powerlifting, being in nature, reading, and spending time with my loved ones.

Melody Luo, Undergraduate Research Assistant


I am a third-year undergraduate student at UC Davis. I am majoring in Psychology and Human Development since I am really interested in humans' psychological and physical changes as they grow, mature, and age. My experience of being a research assistant in another lab at CMB has also established my interest in working with and for young children. Although my native language is Mandarin, I have been learning to listen, read, and write in English for as long as I can remember. So as someone who grew up in a bilingual environment, I am very interested in the ability of children to learn two or more languages. I am very excited to work at LLL Lab and am eager to learn more. In the future, I hope to gain more valuable experience and learn more in the developmental psychology area. Outside of my academic interest, I enjoy playing the violin, ukulele, and singing.

Shelly Sagy, Undergraduate Research Assistant


Hi, I am a fourth year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Applied Statistics and double minoring in Psychology and Economics. I grew up speaking both English and Hebrew at home, and have always been fascinated by language! While working through my psychology coursework I discovered that I have a passion for developmental psychology, especially under the context of education. By studying statistics and its applications, I have developed a deep interest in research of all kinds, including psychological research. Since high school I have loved working with kids, and I have made sure to always take on positions where I can work with children in some capacity. All of the passions I discovered throughout my time as an undergraduate thus far have led me to the Language Learning Lab! In the future I hope to use the skills I learn in this lab in a career as a UX Researcher. In my free time I like to play volleyball, embroider, listen to music, and spend time with friends and family.

Sabine Lloyd, Undergraduate Research Assistant


I am a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in English and psychology. I grew up learning Swiss-German from my mom, in addition to English. Experiencing this dynamic provided me with great curiosity about language acquisition. Furthermore, taking a developmental psychology course and linguistic course in college introduced me to the concept of the critical period. Aside from my interest in the developmental element of language, I am also incredibly interested in the creative element of language. I study literary texts for my major and work for the school newspaper. I enjoy the nuances of language. Given my passion for language, coupled with my passion for psychology, I look forward to my work at the language learning lab.

Julissa Diaz Garcia, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I'm from Ceres, California and I'm the youngest of three girls. I was raised in an English and Spanish speaking environment. When I was younger I mainly spoke English but in recent years I've grown more confident in my Spanish speaking skills. I'm where I am today because when taking Ap Psychology my senior year, I was fascinated with the developmental unit about how children learn and grow. It became a big interest of mine, and I want to gain a deeper understanding of  how children learn from the world around them. This lab interested me because I grew up in a bilingual environment, it's something I feel connected to and want to learn more about. I'm excited to be getting experience in a subject I find fascinating.

Ziling (Anna) Zeng, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I'm a third year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology. I grew up in China speaking Mandarin, and I started learning English since I can remember. I hope to join this lab because I’m passionate about interacting with people, especially children. I have done a writing project about bilingualism in cognitive development class. When I read the research, I was curious about how those tasks were operated. For example, the task testing about children’s selective attention. As a bilingual student, I am eager to discover practical tools and techniques for supporting children within a wide range of language diversities. I am especially interested in exploring novel technologies for behavior capture and data analysis while learning pairing strategies to build strong relationships with children.

Yanhao Chen, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I grew up speaking Mandarin and Shanghainese, and until three years old, I started to learn English. My mother and grandmother are English teachers and they are keen on exploring teaching strategies for children not only learning a foreign language but also interactions during kids' socialization processes. One of the wishes I have since young was to find out the best way to train myself to master this foreign language and for now, what motivates me to join the Language Learning Lab is that I hope to learn about in what ways parents' feedback can help children gain mastery beyond a specific syllable, word and organize a grammatical screening.

Sophia-Margot Kamenov, Undergraduate Research Assistant

Child development research has nothing, but positive outcomes in the long-term. It aims to find solutions and life tools children can use throughout their lives, that I simply want to be a part of! Hello, I am Sophie, a second year Cognitive Science student at UC Davis, eager to pursue multilingualism and child development in the future. I have always been surrounded and working with children- which has filled me with nothing but gratitude and laughter. I grew up with Bulgarian parents that have always stressed learning my native culture, as well as appreciating others. So far, I have acquired 5 different languages - Bulgarian, English, French, Spanish, and Italian, but hope to pick up more later on. I am always prepared for an adventure, whether it be across the world or locally. (Props to whoever can guess which country I am in here!) Outside of academics and work, I love to explore nature, spend time with family and friends, and create new memories.

Olivia Langbehn Alves Rosa, Undergraduate Research Assistant

Hello! I am a Spanish and Comparative Literature double major at UC Davis. My family immigrated to the US from Argentina when I was four years old and I grew up speaking both Spanish at home and English at school. Languages have always been a huge interest of mine, inspiring both of the majors I chose to study. I grew up seeing how myself and other bilingual children would develop in our languages, with different kids having drastically different experiences and those differences were always fascinating. I also love kids and always have, and years as a babysitter and eldest cousin have really developed a desire to be around kids and to see how they work. I find them to be the funniest and most interesting individuals in the world! In my free time, I love to read and make art, as well as to watch movies and share my culture with anyone who will listen!

Sheba Queen Alvarado, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I’m a second-year undergraduate psychology major, minoring in linguistics as a language teacher. I was born in the Philippines, then moved to San Francisco when I turned ten. Being raised within the context of two cultures, I have been defined and shaped by my multilingual identity. That is why I am excited to join Language Learning Lab and be a part of the work they have started here. I seek to combine my interests in linguistics, my Asian-American heritage, and psychology in exploring the facets of education that will enrich a child’s development and where I can be involved in it. Gaining more experience working with children, being a team member, and diving deeper into psychology research are some of the key reasons why I have been led to LLL. Outside of the lab, I am an editor for a student-run psychology journal at UC Davis, Aggie Transcript: Psychology. In my free time, I love to cook, snuggle up with a book, or sometimes a movie—but definitely with a cup of coffee.

Taryn Isabel Quilici, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I am a third-year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development. I am from Chico, CA where I began working with children through various volunteer opportunities and summers as a camp counselor. I love working with children and have always known that I want to work with this age group in some capacity. I have greatly enjoyed my coursework in developmental psychology, which inspired me to look into research opportunities in this field! I am so excited to learn more about language development in my time at the language learning lab. After graduation, I hope to attain my Psy.D to become psychologist and support children and teens. In my free time, I like to bake, read, crochet, and spend time with friends.

Zixian (Susie) Wu, Undergraduate Research Assistant

I am a third-year undergraduate student at UC Davis majoring in psychology and statistics. Growing up in a multilingual environment in China, I was exposed to multiple languages from an early age and have always been fascinated by the difference in language acquisition among infants and children. In the future, I would like to do human development as my major and am willing to be a UXR focusing on products helping children in need. In my free time, I enjoy reading and learning new things which could help me expand my knowledge and explore new ideas.