Summary: Contrary to popular belief, bilingual children do not have an advantage over monolingual children when it comes to attention and executive function, a new study reports.
Source: University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Bilingual children do not have more advantages than monolingual children when it comes to executive function, which includes remembering instructions, controlling responses, and shifting swiftly between tasks, according to a new study published in PLOS One.
The study, “No evidence for effects of Turkish immigrant children’s bilingualism on executive functions,” was coauthored by two UT faculty members: Nils Jaekel, clinical assistant professor of theory and practice in teacher education, and Julia Jaekel, associate professor of child and family studies, together with Jessica Willard and Birgit Leyendecker, researchers from the Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany.
“The research of executive functions is important because they have direct application to success in both real-life and academic situations,” said Julia Jaekel.
For their research, the scientists used a computer test to compare the executive function of two groups of children between the ages of five and 15 living in the German Ruhr region. The first group consisted of 242 children who spoke both Turkish and German, and the other group consisted of 95 children who spoke only German.
The test measured the time bilingual and monolingual children took to correctly respond to computer-based problems and stimuli. The results showed no difference in the executive functions of the two groups.
The researchers also considered children’s German and Turkish vocabulary size and exposure to both languages, factors for which previous studies on the topic had been criticized for lacking.
Does this mean there’s no value in speaking more than one language? Not exactly, said Nils Jaekel: “Although bilingual children are not necessarily more focused than monolingual children, speaking another language can provide other social opportunities along the way. However, it is important to continue the research on this topic so parents, educators, and policymakers do not overpromise on the benefits of speaking a second language.”
About this neuroscience research article
Funding: NORFACE, University of Tennessee’s Open Publishing Support Fund funded this study.
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]University of Tennessee at Knoxville”No Link Between Bilingualism in Children and More Focus.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 18 January 2019. <https://neurosciencenews.com/bilingual-focus-10575/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]University of Tennessee at Knoxville(2019, January 18). No Link Between Bilingualism in Children and More Focus. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 18, 2019 from https://neurosciencenews.com/bilingual-focus-10575/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]University of Tennessee at Knoxville”No Link Between Bilingualism in Children and More Focus.” https://neurosciencenews.com/bilingual-focus-10575/ (accessed January 18, 2019).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
No evidence for effects of Turkish immigrant children‘s bilingualism on executive functions
Recent research has increasingly questioned the bilingual advantage for executive functions (EF). We used structural equation modeling in a large sample of Turkish immigrant and German monolingual children (N = 337; aged 5–15 years) to test associations between bilingualism and EF. Our data showed no significant group differences between Turkish immigrant and German children’s EF skills while taking into account maternal education, child gender, age, and working memory (i.e., digit span backwards). Moreover, neither Turkish immigrant children’s proficiency in either language nor their home language environment predicted EF. Our findings offer important new evidence in light of the ongoing debate about the existence of a bilingual advantage for EF.