Janet Werker, PhD

Professor Janet Werker is another great friend to KidCareCanada and is an active Honourary Member. Before the inception of KidCareCanada, Professor Werker was an enthusiastic supporter of the concept, and vowed “to help”. She felt it important that more families benefit from the exciting research around language acquisition. This research is typically found in Academic Journals where articles are written in a way that is often understood only by other specialists. Professor Werker should know – she has written and had published over 150 such articles! Professor Werker felt most researchers would be pleased to share their findings in easy-to-understand language so that families could understand and use them!

Professor Werker is an international super-star in the field of language acquisition. She did her undergraduate degree in psychology and social relations at Harvard University and her PhD at the University of British Columbia where she is now a University Killam Professor holding a Canada Research Chair. She is the recipient of the 2015 SSHRC Gold Medal (the first UBC professor to receive this honour) and many awards and recognitions that include: the Order of Canada “for her internationally renowned contributions to our understanding of speech perception and language acquisition in infants”, the Pickering Award for Outstanding Contribution to Developmental Psychology in Canada, and several prominent fellowships, including The Royal Society of Canada and The American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is a Fellow of the American Academy for Arts and Sciences, and in 2018 was awarded the Canada Council Killam Prize in the Social Sciences.

Professor Werker has also received the 2019 William James Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science (only four named).

In 2015 Professor Werker co-founded the UBC Language Sciences Initiative and is currently Co-Chair of its Steering Committee. The initiative “fosters collaboration and connections between researchers working in all areas of the language sciences and communicates this knowledge”.

Through her labs, the Infant Studies Centre and the Neonatal Lab, Professor Werker researches the foundations of monolingual and bilingual infant language acquisition.

In the KidCareCanada videos on language development, filmed in Professor Werker’s labs, you can see how she uses both behavioural and neuroimaging tasks to identify “maturational milestones that make it possible for children to begin the process of language acquisition”. You can also see Professor Werker’s warmth in talking to babies. “Infant directed speech” sounds technical, however, when you see Professor Werker modeling it, you realize all parents can learn to do this!

Professor Werker’s research extends to mothers too. She has investigated how “maternal depression and treatment for it can affect timing of language development in children”.

In every way, Professor Werker has surpassed her initial promise “to help KidCareCanada”. We are great fans of this “internationally renowned language acquisition superstar” who is also a mother and grandmother – and as is evident in the videos, an empathetic human being! She has dedicated countless volunteer hours so that more parents can learn about language acquisition and what they can do to build the loving relationship with their child and encourage language development.