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Dr. S.B. (Sybren) Spit

Faculty of Humanities
Capaciteitsgroep Nederlandse Taalkunde
Photographer: Tessa Posthuma de Boer voor Faces of Science

Visiting address
  • Spuistraat 134
  • Room number: 4.25
Postal address
  • Postbus 1642
    1000 BP Amsterdam
Contact details
  • Profile

    I am affiliated with the UvA as a researcher and teacher. My research mainly focusses on language acquisition, with a special interest in methodological innovation. I also work as an advisor/data analist for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. There, I contribute to more data driven/evidence base policy, and to building bridges between science and policy. Below you can find more information about the different projects I have been involved in.

    Meta-LLL (2023-2027)

    I am post-doc researcher within the Meta-LLL project, in which we investigate the relation between literacy, meta-linguistic cognition, and language acquisition. Many people learn a language while also developing literacy, the ability to read and write. When becoming literate, people also learn to think about language as an object of thought; they learn that language consists of separate words, that words are comprised of separate sounds, and that sounds can be represented by symbols. Literacy allows people to manipulate and analyze language. There are good theoretical reasons to assume that becoming literate changes how language is acquired. Yet, we know very little about this. This project aims to increase our understanding of the link between literacy, meta-linguistic cognition, and language acquisition by studying emerging readers: adults and children who learn language while simultaneously learning to read. The principal investigator of this project is Sible Andringa, Bart Siekman and Sarah der Nederlanden will conduct their PhD research as a part of this project. Bart will focus on emergent adult readers, whereas Sarah focusses on emergent child readers. I work as a supervisor in their research projects. In this project, we also work together with Josje Verhagen, Judith Rispens, Michal Korenar and Yesim Sevinc.

    Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (2020-)

    One of my tasks for the Ministry is conducting research that is relevant from a scientific and policy perspective. For example, together with Josje Verhagen, Hanna Mulder and Carolien van Houdt, I looked at non-response in the large pre-COOL study: are toddlers with particular background characteristics better able to comple cognitive tasks? With Sible Andringa and Oisín Ryan I look at the relation between scores on the  State Exam NT2 and study success afterwards, using a Causal Inference approach: does language proficiency in Dutch have an effect on study success? Together with Alex Mulder, Abe Hofman en Niels Smits we investigate to what extent the CBS disadvantages indicator can be judged on its fairness: do we have sufficient data, or is this actually not practically feasible?

    Evaluation Equal Opportunities (2022-2023)

    Every child deserves to flourish in their educational career. Unfortunately, not every child has those opportunities. Schools in Amsterdam receive additional funding to diminish such unequal opportunities. Many schools use this funding for vocabulary interventions. For the municipality of Amsterdam I have investigated the effect of these interventions, together with Sible Andringa and Folkert Kuiken. The first outcomes tentatively suggest that the approach is effective, but further research is necessary. In the second half of 2023, we will investigate this in more detail.

    Replication project (2020-2022)

    In this NWO project, we replicated two influential infant studies: Marcus et al. (1999) and Kovács & Mehler (2009). The goal was to establish the robustness of the original results, by carrying out the experiments again in four different labs across the Netherlands. For this project, I collaborated with Andreea Geambasu, Claartje Levelt (PI), Daan van Renswoude, Elma Blom, Paula Fikkert, Sabine Hunnius, Caroline Junge, Josje Verhagen, Ingmar Visser and Frank Wijnen.

    PhD project (2016-2022)

    In February 2022 I defended my thesis 'Awareness and instruction when kindergarteners acquire language'. This project investigated the common assumpution that children learn their first language entirely implicitly and without any conscious awareness of form and grammar. Although the role of meta-linguistic awareness in adult language acquisition is extensively studied such research is virtually absent in the field of child language acquisition. In this project, I investigated whether children develop any meta-linguistic knowledge when acquiring a language, and whether they make use of explicit instruction in this process. The project was supervised by Enoch Aboh, Sible Andringa and Judith Rispens.

    Science communciation (in Dutch)

    In 2017 ben ik gekozen als 'Face of Science' door de KNAW (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen). Dit project probeert mensen buiten de academische wereld op de hoogte te houden van wetenschappelijk onderzoek. Je kunt hier mijn eerdere bijdrages teruglezen. Verder werd ik over mijn PhD-onderzoek geïnterviewd door NPO Radio 1 (dat kun je hier terugluisteren), Radio SALTO (dat kun je hier terugluisteren), door Folia (dat kun je hier teruglezen) en Kennislink (dat kun je hier teruglezen). Ook heb ik tussen januari 2018 en maart 2020 meegedaan aan zogenaamde ScienceBattles: een theaterprogramma waarin vier promovendi het tegen elkaar opnemen, die elk tien minuten de tijd krijgen om hun onderzoek voor een breed publiek toegankelijk te maken. Aan het eind kiest het publiek een winnaar. Meer informatie is hier te vinden. In augustus 2022 stond ik met onder andere Josje Verhagen op Lowlands met een groot karaoke-experiment. Daarover waren we op de radio te horen bij De Staat van Stasse (hier) en het NOS Radio 1 Journaal (hier).


  • Publications


    • Geambașu, A., Spit, S., van Renswoude, D., Blom, E., Fikkert, P. J. P. M., Hunnius, S., Junge, C. C. M. M., Verhagen, J., Visser, I., Wijnen, F., & Levelt, C. C. (2023). Robustness of the rule-learning effect in 7-month-old infants: A close, multicenter replication of Marcus et al. (1999). Developmental Science, 26(1), Article e13244. Advance online publication. [details]
    • Spit, S., Geambașu, A., van Renswoude, D., Blom, E., Fikkert, P., Hunnius, S., Junge, C., Verhagen, J., Visser, I., Wijnen, F., & Levelt, C. C. (2023). Robustness of the cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants: A close multi-center replication of Kovács and Mehler (2009). Developmental Science, 26(6), Article e13377. [details]
    • Spit, S., Mulder, H., van Houdt, C., & Verhagen, J. (2023). Can we predict non-response in developmental tasks? Assessing the longitudinal relation between toddlers’ non-response and early academic skills. Infant and Child Development, 32(1), Article e2376. Advance online publication. [details]



    • Leeuwestein, H., Barking, M., Sodacı, H., Oudgenoeg‐Paz , O., Verhagen, J., Vogt, P., Aarts, R., Spit, S., de Haas, M., de Wit, J., & Leseman, P. (2021). Teaching Turkish-Dutch kindergarteners Dutch vocabulary with a social robot: Does the robot's use of Turkish translations benefit children's Dutch vocabulary learning? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 37(3), 603-620. [details]
    • Spit, S., Andringa, S., Rispens, J., & Aboh, E. O. (2021). Do Kindergarteners Develop Awareness of the Statistical Regularities They Acquire? Language Learning, 71(2), 573-611. Advance online publication. [details]



    • Spit, S. B., Geambașu, A., van Renswoude, D. R., Blom, W. B. T., Fikkert, P., Hunnius, S., Junge, C. M. M., Verhagen, J., Visser, I., Wijnen, F., & Levelt, C. C. (2022). Building blocks of cognition: replicating Marcus et al. (1999) and Kovács & Mehler (2009)..
    • Spit, S. B., Ryan, O., & Andringa, S. J. (2022). Investigating the relation between second language proficiency and study success using a causal inference approach..


    • Spit, S. B., Andringa, S. J., Rispens, J. E., & Aboh, E. O. (2018). Kindergarteners’ statistical learning is influenced by instruction.



    • Verhagen, J. (other) & Spit, S. (other) (19-8-2022 - 21-8-2022). Lab at Lowlands Science (other).
    • Andringa, S. (organiser) & Spit, S. (organiser) (14-6-2019). Awareness in humans and machines, Amsterdam (organising a conference, workshop, ...).
    • Spit, S. B. (organiser) & Andringa, S. (organiser) (8-12-2017). Awareness in Animal Cognition, Amsterdam (organising a conference, workshop, ...).


    This list of publications is extracted from the UvA-Current Research Information System. Questions? Ask the library or the Pure staff of your faculty / institute. Log in to Pure to edit your publications. Log in to Personal Page Publication Selection tool to manage the visibility of your publications on this list.
  • Ancillary activities
    • Ministerie OCW