Childhood Bilingualism

In this month’s issue of Science, an article appeared from two researchers, Ágnes Melinda Kovács and Jacques Mehler, at the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati–SISSA in Trieste, Italy. They used an eye-tracking study involving speech patterns and toys which found that bilingual infants (12 months) could better distinguish between “two different regularities.” That is, when presented with two different speech patterns of nonce syllables, the bilingual children learned to associate the distinct patterns with the location of the toys. Thus, in the absence of the toys, the bilingual children were statistically more likely than monolingual children to look to the previous location of the toy associated with the pattern they hear. The monolingual children only learned the pattern for one of the locations.

What gives the bilingual infant the advantage? The researchers suggest that a bilingual infant can learn multiple structures simultaneously as a result of the mixed speech they’ve been exposed to. This mixed speech either allows the children to filter out interference possibly due to the development of what the researchers call the “precocious development of control and selection abilities” as documented in other sources.

To see the article and the documented sources:
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/325/5940/611

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