Postdoctoral Researcher

Leona Polyanskaya

I received my degree in Education and worked as a school teacher before I decided to go into research. My vision was to fill the gap between academic research and common practices in classes. I decided to combine my practical experience and scientific investigation in order to facilitate language teaching. I enrolled as a PhD student at Universität Bielefeld (Germany), and worked on reducing accentedness in second language speech by focusing on development of rhythmic patterns, prosody and temporal segmental characteristics, typical of the target language.

After defense in 01/2015 (magna cum laude), I received a research grant of 30.000€ from Rektort der Universität Bielefeld, as a PI at postdoctoral level, to develop applied aspects of my PhD project. I also used part of these funds to attend the Centre for Research on Bilingualism at Bangor University, UK, as a visiting researcher for one month. Upon completion of the project, I worked with Prof. Busa on interaction between prosody and gestures (University of Padova, Italy). In 2016, I received a Juan de la Cierva fellowship. I was mentored by Prof. Samuel at the BCBL. My research focus was on perception of prosody by L2 learners, and how difference in prosody in L1 and L2 affect speech processing. My research activities were evaluated as EXCELENTE by the Spanish Ministry. However, I started to feel that I lack expertise and knowledge in how the brain works while processing language. To fill in the gap in my background, I used the opportunities at the BCBL to acquire expertise in cognitive neuroscience, EEG, MRI and eye-tracking techniques.

In 2018, I received a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship and started a new research line on how bilingualism influences metacognition. Upon completion, the project was highlighted in the ERC Horizon magazine. To delve into cognitive neuroscience and biological foundations of cognition deeper, I started working with Prof. Caridad Lopez-Granero (Universidad de Zaragoza) on how psychological and environmental stressors like air pollution (PM2.5 and toxicity) affect the resilience of neural systems to age-related degenerative processes in aging population. My work at Zaragoza allowed me to gain experience in supervising master projects. I also have some mentoring experience as a senior researcher at University of Göttingen (Germany), while contributing to coordinating students’ research trips to Mexico, who went to work with Mayan-Spanish bilinguals and the Yucatec Maya language.

My current international network includes collaborators in Germany (Göttingen), Portugal (Coimbra Institute for Biomedical Imaging), Saudi Arabia (Prince Sultan University, Riyadh), Mexico (Centro Regional de Educación Normal, Felipe Carrillo Puerto), China (Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou). I am currently leading active collaborative projects on metacognition and linguistic experience.

I am a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (from 01/2023 till 12/2025), and I am an active reviewer for Journal of Phonetics, International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Language and Speech, Phonetica, Journal of the Acoustic Society of America, System.

Research Interests

I am interested in how bilingualism affects cognition in language and non-language domains, metacognition in language and non-language tasks, decision strategies and non-verbal behaviour. In earlier studies, I showed that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in metacognitive efficiency in language tasks. Bilinguals are better when they need to report if they have learnt a new set of words in a foreign language well, if their performance in oral tasks is good, if they are good (or bad) at learning and using grammar of a novel language. It is important to emphasize here that I am not talking about bilingual advantage in doing the task: there are good and bad learners both among bilinguals and monolinguals. However, bilinguals are more aware of how good or bad they are at a particular language task. I further hypothesized that typological distance between languages in bilinguals’ inventory can influence this metacognitive ability. Typologically different languages require different processing strategies, which have to be monitored, and this creates natural conditions for training metacognitive ability in daily life. If bilinguals’ languages are typologically similar and can be processed by the same cognitive strategies, metacognition is not enhanced. I will test this theory by comparing Basque bilinguals with Catalan bilinguals, Mayan bilinguals, English bilinguals, and Quechua bilinguals (all bilinguals have native command of Spanish as one of their languages), hence the UPV will be the idea base for the project. Moreover, I will compare Spanish monolinguals from Spain, Mexico, and Ecuador. As these monolinguals  speak the same language, the comparison will show the contribution of cultural and socio-demographic differences between societies into metacognition, hence allowing us to separate the cultural vs linguistic origins of metacognition in language and non-language domains.