For Young Children, Two Languages Are as Easy as One

This article was featured in the October 2009 issue of the Language Educator. There was no autor cited (page 11). Consider teaching your child early. The more education your child receives between the ages of 0-5, the more brain development you promote.

European researchers are contesting the assumption that bilin­gual toddlers have more trouble learning language skills than children who know just one language.

“While the remarkable performance of children acquiring one lan­guage is impressive, many children acquire more than one language simultaneously,” says study author Agnes Melinda Kovács, a research fellow at the International School for Advanced Studies, in Trieste, Italy. “As bilingual children presumably have to learn roughly twice as much as their monolingual peers [because they learn two languag­es instead of one], one would expect their language acquisition to be somewhat delayed. However, bilinguals pass the language develop­ment milestones at the same ages as their monolingual peers.”

The finding, which appeared in Science magazine in print and online in July ( 611), resulted from a test of the responses to verbal and visual cues from 64 babies who were 12 months old. They came from monolin­gual and bilingual families, although the study did not specify which languages the families spoke. The toddlers were exposed to two sets of words that had different structural characteristics. After each word, the children viewed a special toy on either the left or right side of a screen, depending on the word’s structure. They then were pre­sented with words they had never heard before but that conformed to one of the two verbal structures. No toy followed.

Researchers determined whether the infants had learned the word structures by measuring the direction of their gaze after hearing each new word. Judging by their eye movements, the bilingual kids did better in recognizing words than their monolingual peers.

“We showed that pre-verbal, 12-month-old, bilingual infants have become more flexible at learning speech structures than monolin­guals,” says Kovacs. “When given the opportunity to simultaneously learn two different regularities, bilingual infants learned both, while monolinguals learned only one of them.”

This means, she says, that “bilinguals may acquire two languages in the time in which monolinguals acquire one because they quickly become more flexible learners.”

According to the study, the cognitive pathways developed during the learning of two languages might make bilingual children more efficient in acquiring new information.