Corcoran resident working for Learning to Talk project


My name is Maria Swora, and I have lived in the Corcoran Neighborhood for four years, and I love it. I can be seen just about daily walking my black collie mix, Laika, about the neighborhood. What I like best about Corcoran is the diversity of its residents and the sense of community engagement as well as the playfulness in the street paintings and murals.

I am also passionate about my job. I am the project manager for Learning to Talk, a research study investigating how children learn language and develop good vocabularies. The Learning to Talk Project is situated in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at the UMN. We are exploring the relationship between how children learn to produce and perceive speech sounds, and how they learn new words. Our ultimate goal is to develop ways to help kids become good word learners so that all children start kindergarten with strong vocabularies, ready to learn to read. I love the social justice aspect of this project – our aim is to develop ways to help decrease the achievement gap.

While my main duties focus on managing the day-to-day activities of the study, by far the most important part of my job as the project manager of Learning to Talk is outreach. We are seeking to form relationships with community organizations and other groups to reach families who might be interested in participating in our study. It is important that we reach families from a wide variety of backgrounds, and include children who may be late talkers, have cochlear implants, or come from underrepresented communities and lower income families. We want all children to be represented in the study so that all children will benefit. We also want Learning to Talk to be a community study, where we give back to the community by sharing what we learn.

Learning to Talk is a longitudinal study, which means the children and their families come into the lab at three time points over a three year period. Children participate in a variety of word and language related activities, and the parents or guardians fill out questionnaires about their households and their children’s behavior and word knowledge. The study also includes the use of the LENA, a small recording device that works as a “language pedometer,” counting the words a child says and hears through the course of a day. Participants are compensated for their time, and at each visit to the lab, children receive a book and a toy.

Right now, we are looking for families with children between the ages of 2 and a half years and three years old. Interested families can find out more by visiting the Learning to Talk webpage,, or by calling me at 612-626-1935. Or they can email me at

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