The development of two languages among minority children with another mother language than the majority language is beneficial for cognitive development, according to a new study from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK.
The researchers studied the cognitive benefits of bilingualism in children who speak the minority languages of Sardinian and Scottish Gaelic, in addition to their respective "national" languages of Italian and English.
Bilinguals need to cope with two different ways of naming and perceiving reality. As a result of that the bilingual brain needs to learn both how to think in two languages and how to switch on and off between them, a process known as code switching. Researchers believe that this process provides multilingual people an advantage over monolinguals.
In the past, researchers believed that learning a second language could hinder children's' academic development, but today it is well accepted that bilingual children present cognitive advantages.
A new study from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow shows that bilingual education is actually beneficial for cognitive development among language minority children. The findings from the study were recently published in the International Journal of Bilingualism.
Fraser Lauchlan, Ph.D., from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, U.K., and colleagues examined the cognitive benefits of bilingualism among children who speak the minority languages of Sardinian and Scottish Gaelic, in addition to their national languages (Italian and English).
Method The researchers tested for cognitive benefits among 121 monolingual and bilingual children, and used standardized tests targeting on the four areas which were previously shown to benefit from being bilingual: - cognitive control - problem-solving ability - metalinguistic awareness - working memory
Results The bilingual children significantly outperformed the monolingual children in two of the four tests, and the Scottish children significantly outperformed the Sardinian children in one of the sub-tests. The differences found were largely due to the superior performance of the Scottish bilingual children who receive a formal bilingual education, in contrast to the Sardinian bilingual children who mostly only speak the minority language at home.
- The results in the current study provide supportive evidence that there are clear cognitive advantages of being bilingual: in the current research, specifically, the situation where one speaks a minority language as well as an internationally recognized language, It is clear from the current research that the speaking of these minority languages, whether it be at home or in a school setting, but preferably both, should be encouraged, the authors concluded.
Illustration photo: By Courtesy of Harvard Archives
About Fraser Lauchlan Dr Lauchlan is an Honorary Lecturer in Educational Psychology at the University of Strathclyd and the External Examiner to the Doctorate in Applied Educational Psychology at Newcastle University.
For 10 years Dr Lauchlan worked in a local authority setting in Scotland, firstly as an educational psychologist (1999-2005) and then senior psychologist (2005-2009). In the past two years, he has also worked at various times as a Visiting Professor at the Universita di Cagliari where he received funding to research the cognitive benefits of bilingualism in children who speak Italian and Sardinian and also English and Gaelic.
His research interests include the use of dynamic assessment by educational psychologists, chronic non-attendance and the cognitive benefits of bilingualism. Dr Lauchlan has published in many other areas, mostly in relation to the work of educational psychology in the UK.