Are bilingual kids more open-minded?

March 5, 2014

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.

Explore further: Growing up bilingual: Dual-language upbringing reflected in young children's vocabulary

Related Stories

Growing up bilingual: Dual-language upbringing reflected in young children's vocabulary

January 16, 2013
Language mixing – using elements from two languages in the same sentence – is frequent among bilingual parents and could pose a challenge for vocabulary acquisition by one- and two-year-old children, according to a new ...

Explainer: What is foreign accent syndrome?

June 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 as foreign accent ...

Learning dialects shapes brain areas that process spoken language

October 18, 2013
Using advanced imaging to visualize brain areas used for understanding language in native Japanese speakers, a new study from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute finds that the pitch-accent in words pronounced in standard Japanese ...

Recommended for you

Ten-month-old infants determine the value of a goal from how hard someone works to achieve it

November 23, 2017
Babies as young as 10 months can assess how much someone values a particular goal by observing how hard they are willing to work to achieve it, according to a new study from MIT and Harvard University.

Stress in pregnancy linked to changes in infant's nervous system, less smiling, less resilience

November 23, 2017
Maternal stress during the second trimester of pregnancy may influence the nervous system of the developing child, both before and after birth, and may have subtle effects on temperament, resulting in less smiling and engagement, ...

Domestic violence turns women off masculine men

November 23, 2017
Women who are afraid of violence within partnerships prefer more feminine men, according to new research carried out by scientists at the University of St Andrews.

Study finds infection and schizophrenia symptom link

November 22, 2017
If a mother's immune system is activated by infection during pregnancy, it could result in critical cognitive deficits linked to schizophrenia in her offspring, a University of Otago study has revealed.

Schizophrenia drug development may be 'de-risked' with new research tool

November 22, 2017
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) have identified biomarkers that can aid in the development of better treatments for schizophrenia.

Self-harm, suicide attempts climb among US girls, study says

November 21, 2017
Attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self-injury have increased substantially in U.S. girls, a 15-year study of emergency room visits found.

1 comment

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.