Are bilingual kids more open-minded?

There are clear benefits to raising a bilingual child. But could there be some things learning a second language doesn't produce, such as a more open-minded youngster?

New research from Concordia University shows that, like , prefer to interact with those who speak their with a native rather than with peers with a foreign accent.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology and co-authored by psychology professors Krista Byers-Heinlein and Diane Poulin-Dubois, expands on earlier research showing that children who speak one language prefer to interact with those who share their native accent.

Byers-Heinlein and Poulin-Dubois initially thought that bilingual children would prove more open-minded than their unilingual peers. The results, however, show that they too prefer exchanges with "accent-free" speakers.

As part of the study, 44 Montreal-area children between the ages of five and six were shown two on a computer screen. Audio recordings were played for each face; one read a phrase in the child's native accent, while another read the same phrase in a foreign accent. Researchers deliberately chose a foreign accent that was unfamiliar to any of the children and varied associations between faces and voices.

Child participants were asked to point to the faces they would prefer to have as a friend. Most chose faces that corresponded with their native accent.

So why are bilingual children biased against foreign accents? According to Byers-Heinlein, this may be related to children's preference for familiarity.

"Kids tend to prefer to interact with people who are like them, and might perceive an accent as the mark of an outsider," she says.

This study has implications for parents. Since children lack the self-awareness to remind themselves that accent is a superficial measure of character, parents should be more direct in teaching their kids about accents.

"We show biases early on, so it might be necessary to educate all kids, regardless of their linguistic background, about what an accent is and how it doesn't reflect anything about people other than the fact that they are not speaking their native language," says Byers-Heinlein.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Explainer: What is foreign accent syndrome?

Jun 20, 2013

In the past few days, a great deal of media attention has been paid to Leanne Rowe, a Tasmanian woman who has lived eight years with a French accent she acquired after a car accident. This phenomenon is known ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers copy their peers to fit in, but apes don't

1 hour ago

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human ...

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

2 hours ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

2 hours ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

russell_russell
not rated yet May 03, 2014
...how it [accent] doesn't reflect anything about people other than the fact that they are not speaking their native language," says Byers-Heinlein.


What is the language of people who can no longer recall their native language?
What is dialect?
What do Germans speak? If they did not learn high German?

What do Germans call the German language not spoken in high German?
(Hint: They call this language 'low' German)
Do they call this form of German accent free?
Do they call this form of German not native?

Your research is based on the premise that you have a definition for 'accent'.
You do not have a definition for accent.
I ask that you redo your research.
I ask that you return the time to me I needed to read your mistake.

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.