Bilingualism 'can increase mental agility'

August 3, 2012

Bilingual children outperform children who speak only one language in problem-solving skills and creative thinking, according to research led at the University of Strathclyde.

A study of primary school pupils who spoke English or Italian- half of whom also spoke Gaelic or Sardinian- found that the were significantly more successful in the tasks set for them. The Gaelic-speaking were, in turn, more successful than the Sardinian .

The differences were linked to the mental alertness required to switch between languages, which could develop skills useful in other types of thinking. The further advantage for Gaelic-speaking children may have been due to the formal teaching of the language and its extensive .

In contrast, Sardinian is not widely taught in schools on the Italian island and has a largely oral tradition, which means there is currently no standardised form of the language.

Dr Fraser Lauchlan, an Honorary Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde's School of & Health, led the research. It was conducted with colleagues at the University of Cagliari in Sardinia, where he is a Visiting Professor.

Dr Lauchlan said: "Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them.

"Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children's vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.

"We also found they had an aptitude for selective attention- the ability to identify and focus on information which is important, while filtering out what is not- which could come from the 'code-switching' of thinking in two different languages."

In the study, a total of 121 children in Scotland and Sardinia- 62 of them bilingual- were set tasks in which they were asked to reproduce patterns of coloured blocks, to repeat orally a series of numbers, to give clear definitions of words and to resolve mentally a set of arithmetic problems. The tasks were all set in English or Italian and the children taking part were aged around nine.

During the research, Dr Lauchlan's post at the University of Cagliari was funded by the Sardinian Regional Government (Regione Autonoma della Sardegna).

The study has been published in the International Journal of Bilingualism.

Explore further: Study examines role of bilingualism in children's development

Related Stories

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 ...

Bilingualism seems to boost tots' minds

July 15, 2011

When young children learn a second language, it strengthens their ability to pay attention to the right stuff, reports a new Cornell study.

Recommended for you

Talk to babies and let them babble back to bridge word gap

February 18, 2017

Even infants can have conversations with mom or dad. Their turn just tends to involve a smile or some gibberish instead of words. That's a key lesson from programs that are coaching parents to talk more with their babies—and ...

What the ability to 'get the gist' says about your brain

February 17, 2017

Many who have a chronic traumatic brain injury (TBI) report struggling to solve problems, understand complex information and maintain friendships, despite scoring normally on cognitive tests. New research from the Center ...

Emotions are cognitive, not innate, researchers conclude

February 15, 2017

Emotions are not innately programmed into our brains, but, in fact, are cognitive states resulting from the gathering of information, New York University Professor Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown, a professor at the City ...

People are found to be inefficient when searching for things

February 15, 2017

(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers at the University of Aberdeen in the U.K. has found that when people scan areas looking for something in particular, they tend to do so in a very inefficient manner. In their paper ...

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.