Why learn a second language?

Felipe Pincheira-Berthelon, UWL senior and psychology major, will present research at the Seven Rivers Undergraduate Research Sumposium Friday, Nov. 10, at Viterbo University.

Senior to share psychology of language research at Viterbo’s regional conference Nov. 10

UWL senior Felipe Pincheira-Berthelon encourages everyone to learn another language. Not just because it’s fun or useful for traveling, but because it could potentially be an important tool for living a healthy life.

Pincheira-Berthelon is conducting a multi-stage research project on how being multilingual can affect a person’s mindset toward stress. The psychology major will present his research at the Seven Rivers Undergraduate Research Symposium Friday, Nov. 10, at Viterbo University.

The annual symposium attracts hundreds of people from the tri-state area to see undergraduate student research and creative works from a variety of disciplines. Students from throughout the Midwest and beyond share posters, artistic displays and oral presentations. Twelve UWL students will present seven posters and give three oral presentations.

Last year, UWL students received two of the six awards presented at the event. One of those awards went to the poster presented by the team of three UWL students, Phoenix Rogers, Marissa Despins and Khadel Akindolire-King. Rogers and Despins will participate again this year giving an oral presentation on methylmercury contamination in the food webs of five Minnesota rivers.

On language and healthy living

In high school, Pincheira-Berthelon says learning a second language was often minimized. It was considered a requirement if going to college or a way to prepare for international travel. But Pincheira-Berthelon had experienced a much deeper benefit to being bilingual growing up in Madison with two parents from Chile. He spoke Spanish at home and always felt like two different people depending on which language he was speaking. He also found that tapping into those dual personalities was a good way to manage stress. For instance, if he was stressed in an English speaking context, he could listen to Spanish music or talk to parents in Spanish to feel more relaxed.

In psychology classes at UWL, Pincheira-Berthelon began to read past studies and conduct research on bilingual people and saw that he wasn’t alone in his experience. A common trend in linguistic research demonstrates a dual/split personality that is representative of specific languages people speak. The classes further convinced him that the psychology of language was a field worth exploring.

Pincheira-Berthelon connected with Elizabeth Peacock, a UWL linguistic anthropologist, who became a faculty mentor. With additional support from the McNair Scholars Program, Pincheira-Berthelon began his multi-stage research project related to dual personalities and language in spring 2017.

He sought to build on past studies when he conducted a survey of 90 multilingual participants to understand how they view their own language. Survey results showed that more than half of the participants have felt like a different person when speaking another language, congruent with past research.

His next step is to conduct follow-up interviews to ask more in-depth questions about their dual personality experience, and particularly how it is used in contexts where they experience stress or anxiety.

Pincheira-Berthelon, who graduates in May, is grateful to have had a support system at UWL as he grew increasingly interested in a particular topic. He continues to have that support as he begins searching for graduate schools to study the psychology of language. The McNair office, his faculty mentor, and his friend, Dylan Jester, who graduated from UWL last year, have become “a network of people you can trust, laugh and cry with” while exploring this new academic territory, he says.

As for his more short-term goals, Pincheira-Berthelon prepares for his Friday presentation. He hopes sharing his research encourages others to consider expanding their horizons in the world of languages.