[The Canadian SLP] Consequences of Bilingualism for Cognitive Development

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Project Coordinator

May 13, 2015, 10:44:50 AM5/13/15
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Bialystok, E. (2005). Consequences of bilingualism for cognitive development. In J. F. Kroll and A. M. B. DeGroot (Eds.) Handbook of bilingualism (pp. 417-432). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

            The performance of bilingual and monolingual children on cognitive tasks has been compared for decades in psychology research. Historically, research has suggested a bilingual disadvantage for cognitive tasks, such as IQ measures and mathematics problems. As Bialystok presented in this review chapter, however, many of the measures used require a considerable amount of language processing, and bilingual children may be being tested in a language they are only beginning to learn. Of course, this would offer a clear advantage to monolingual children who are being tested in their native language. In light of this bias, recent testing has focused on creating more balanced tasks for monolingual and bilingual children. And in fact, as Bialystok’s review shows, bilingual children appear to show an advantage on certain kinds of tasks.

            Bilingual children seem to show a considerable advantage in tasks that require controlling attention and inhibiting misleading information. For example, in studies involving a Towers Task, young monolingual and bilingual children were shown two towers: One made of Lego blocks, and one made of Duplo blocks. The Duplo blocks were identical to the Lego blocks, except they were twice the size. The two towers contained the same amount of blocks, and children were required to count the number of blocks in each tower. The height of the Duplo tower was hard to ignore, but it was a misleading cue. Bilingual children performed better than their monolingual peers on counting the number of blocks in each tower, and ignoring the height of the tower. Bilingual children were more able to control their attention in attending to the counting task and ignoring the misleading height cue. Advantages for bilingual children on these skills seem to fit with the idea that they are constantly inhibiting interference between their two (or more) languages when they are using language.

            There does not seem to be a bilingual or a monolingual advantage on some cognitive tasks. However, certain features of the tasks will affect children’s performance. If the task requires a high amount of language skills, such as mathematical word problem, children being tested in their native language may perform better. Or, if the task requires controlling attention and inhibiting misleading information, bilingual children may show an advantage. When testing bilingual children it is important to take into account their verbal skills in the language in which they are being tested. And, it is interesting to consider the areas in which bilingual children may be at an advantage due to their ability to use multiple languages.

Blogger: Nicolette Noonan, PhD student with Drs. Lisa Archibald and Marc Joanisse, and coordinator of the Canadian SLP blog.

Posted By Project Coordinator to The Canadian SLP at 5/13/2015 10:44:00 AM
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