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Research Article on Early Bilingualism

January 5, 2009
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Los Angeles Unified School District reports that more than 80 languages are spoken by students, challenging teachers and parents on how best to teach the bilingual student.

To explore what is happening for the bilingual child, the journal ZERO TO THREE has recently published Cognitive Consequences of Early Bilingualism. Authored by Hanako Yoshida, assistant professor and director of the Cognitive Development Lab at the University of Houston, the paper addresses two key questions: How is cognition affected by bilingualism? and, Does learning translate between languages?

The article suggests that bilingual children have better executive functioning, or are better at tasks that require self-control. Yoshida states that "children who speak two languages and must regularly shift between them must learn to inhibit the words in one language to speak the other language." In other words, they practice shifting between two languages, strengthening the part of the brain that equates to self-control.

According to Yoshida, information learned in one language can easily transfer to another. The child will need to learn a new name in the new language, but the concept will remain the same. She also references research that suggests that bilingual children have a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

These findings can have an impact on how the learning environment can be structured to nurture bilingual children, but how that will manifest is yet to be determined. This article is available at no cost at the ZERO TO THREE Web site. Click here to download the article.

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