Study examines role of bilingualism in children's development

February 8, 2012

A new study on children who are raised bilingual examined the effects on children's development of growing up speaking two languages. The study found that different factors were responsible for the language- and non-language-related outcomes of bilingualism found in previous research.

The research was carried out at York University in and published in the journal Child Development.

show differences in how they develop language and through the early school years. Children who grow up speaking two languages have slower in each language than children raised speaking just one language. However, they have better metalinguistic development that gives them a deeper understanding of the structure of language, a skill that's important for . And they perform better on tests of nonverbal executive control, that is, tests that measure children's ability to focus attention where necessary without being distracted and shift attention when required.

Because bilingualism is often tied to other factors—including differences in culture, socioeconomic status, immigration history, and language—it's difficult to determine which aspect of the experience is responsible for outcomes, or indeed, whether it's bilingualism at all.

To determine what effects can be associated with being raised speaking two languages, researchers compared more than 100 6-year-old monolingual and bilingual children (English monolinguals, Chinese-English bilinguals, French-English bilinguals, and Spanish-English bilinguals) using three tasks that measured verbal development and one nonverbal task that measured executive control. All the children had similar levels of socioeconomic status.

The bilingual groups differed in the degree of similarity between languages, cultural background, immigration history, and language of schooling. Nevertheless, on an executive control task in which children needed to switch between two sorting rules to classify a set of pictures, all bilingual groups performed similarly and exceeded monolinguals. Differences in language, culture, and immigration all produced the same bilingual advantage compared to the monolinguals. In contrast, the best performance on the language tasks was achieved by bilingual children whose language of instruction was the same as the language of the test and whose two languages had more overlap.

"In sum, executive control outcomes for bilingual children are general, but performance on verbal tasks is specific to factors in the bilingual experience, like how close a child's two language are, and whether they are assessed in the same they are taught in school," according to Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor in the department of psychology at York University, who took part in the study.

Explore further: Babies raised in bilingual homes learn new words differently than infants learning one language

Related Stories

Bilingual babies: The roots of bilingualism in newborns

February 16, 2010

It may not be obvious, but hearing two languages regularly during pregnancy puts infants on the road to bilingualism by birth. According to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological ...

Bilingual benefits reach beyond communication

November 9, 2010

Speaking two languages can be handy when traveling abroad, applying for jobs, and working with international colleagues, but how does bilingualism influence the way we think? In the current issue of Psychological Science ...

A second language gives toddlers an edge

January 19, 2011

Toddlers who learn a second language from infancy have an edge over their unilingual peers, according to a new study from Concordia University and York University in Canada and the Universite de Provence in France. As reported ...

Juggling languages can build better brains

February 18, 2011

Once likened to a confusing tower of Babel, speaking more than one language can actually bolster brain function by serving as a mental gymnasium, according to researchers.

Recommended for you

Psychosis associated with low levels of physical activity

August 25, 2016

A large international study of more than 200,000 people in nearly 50 countries has revealed that people with psychosis engage in low levels of physical activity, and men with psychosis are over two times more likely to miss ...

Sleep makes relearning faster and longer-lasting

August 22, 2016

Getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what you studied and relearn what you've forgotten, even 6 months later, according to new findings from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.