Bilingual children are better at problem solving, according to new study

Children exposed to two languages performed better on certain tests 

Kashmira Gander
Friday 12 February 2016 11:57 GMT

Bilingual toddlers are better at problem solving than those who speak one language, according to a new study.

Researchers compared 39 children in Montreal, Canada, who learned English and French from birth with 43 monolingual children in San Diego.

The team also interviewed their parents to gain an understanding of how much exposure children had to languages.

Children were tested on their expressive vocabulary when they were two-years-old and again at 31-months. During the second round, they also took assessments on memory, conflict resolution and brain function.

The study published in the ‘Journal of Experimental Child Psychology’ by researchers at Canada’s Concordia University, San Diego State University, and the University of Geneva in Switzerland found that bilingual children outperformed monolinguals on conflict tasks.

To examine their response to conflict, the children were asked to play with a selection of large blocks and small blocks. Researchers repeatedly told the group that the big blocks were to go in the big bucket, and the smaller blocks in the smaller bucket.

The children were then told to put the little blocks inside the big bucket, and visa versa, Reuters reported.

If a child did as they were told the second time, the team surmised that this meant they were able to accept new rules. Bilingual children were more likely to comply with the new rules, according to the study.

Researchers believed that in adult life this would enable the children to stick to particular goals such as diet or exercise programmes and avoid distractions, senior author Diane Poulin-Dubois of Concordia University in Montreal told Reuters.

She added that learning a language later in life can have social and cognitive benefits, which are maintained when the two languages are both used.

A previous study by psychologists at the University of Chicago found that children exposed to other languages were likely to have a better understanding of other people.

The researchers who carried out the study in the journal ‘Psychological Science’ said at the time: “Early language exposure is essential to developing a formal language system, but may not be sufficient for communicating effectively.

“To understand a speaker’s intention, one must take the speaker’s perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking.”

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