Bilingual Toddlers Reap Cognitive Benefits Over Kids Who Speak Just 1 Language

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers

Teaching your child a second language, such as Spanish, at an early age can improve her cognitive abilities. Credit: Getty

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Speaking a second language gives toddlers some cognitive advantages over children who only speak one language, a new study shows.

Researchers in Canada and France divided more than 60 24-month-old children into two groups: those who spoke both French and English, and those who spoke a single language, according to a report in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. The children's parents provided information about their kids' exposure to language and filled out vocabulary checklists while the language skills and cognitive abilities of the children were tested.

Previous research has already shown that bilingual children have better cognitive skills than monolingual children, which has been attributed to the flexibility required to switch between two languages, the report says. This new study tested that theory by looking at younger children, who have less experience going back and forth between their two languages, and the researchers found the cognitive benefits present earlier than previously thought.

The children with two native languages significantly outperformed the children who spoke one language on a cognitive test that measured reaction time and the ability to exclude conflicting information (in adults, this skill is measured by asking them to read the name of a color printed in a different color, such as the word "blue" printed in red ink), the report says. There was no difference in performance between the two groups on other cognitive exams.

The findings show that exposing children to a second language early on can help with attention control, according to the report.

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