A bilingual participant listens to English sentences while looking at images on screen with an eye-tracking sensor to monitor eye movement in real time.

You may think that a verb has the same meaning, regardless of language—but not Hyunwoo Kim, a PhD student in the Department of Second Language Studies (SLS) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Kim received a National Science Foundation (NSF) award to investigate how Korean-English bilinguals comprehend English, and how their native Korean language influences understanding of English. His research will focus on verbs.

Hyunwoo Kim

“The human mind can interpret and accommodate languages differently,” he explains. “Understanding how bilingual speakers derive meaning in context has direct implications for professionals, such as interpreters, teachers and speech-language pathologists.”

The nearly $17,000 award will, among other things, allow Kim to travel to Korea to conduct research and attend academic conferences, and pay research assistants.

“Thanks to the NSF award,” Kim says, “I can now expand the research territory beyond the U.S. and conduct experiments in collaboration with universities in Korea. It also allows me to obtain a large amount of data both from the U.S. and Korea.”

With his advisor, SLS Professor Therese Grüter, Kim conducted previous research that found strong evidence that knowledge of the Korean language interfered when Korean-English bilinguals read and interpreted English sentences. The NSF award will help Kim build on that research and look at additional factors, such as bilinguals’ English proficiency and their English learning environments. Kim is also conducting an eye-tracking experiment to see whether there is influence from Korean language for bilinguals in real time sentence comprehension.

Kim, who is also a Fulbright scholar, hopes to return to Korea after finishing his doctoral degree and disseminate the techniques and insights learned from this project to graduate and undergraduate students in Korea, providing them opportunities to gain research experience and a better understanding of bilingualism.