Bilingual Kids Get a Boost: Benefits of In-Home Speech Therapy & Language Exposure for Multiple Languages

Bilingual Kids Infographic

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Did yesterday’s post on raising bilingual kids make you reach for the Muzzy tapes? If not, this one might! Yesterday, we discussed some of the in-home speech therapy techniques that can be helpful for fostering language development in bilingual children. We also mentioned a New York Times article that referenced a study suggesting that bilingual children are more cognitively advanced than their peers. They tend to have heightened problem-solving skills, better memories, and an enhanced ability to focus. But three other scientific studies on bilingual kids might interest you. Read on to discover some more benefits of raising bilingual kids.

Vocabulary Acquisition

The first study is from researchers from Concordia University, York University, and the Universite de Provence in France. They reported their findings in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Senior researcher Diane Poulin-Dubois of Concordia University and her colleagues tested the vocabulary of 24-month-olds who were being raised bilingual (English and French). The researchers wanted to determine if the vocabulary acquisition of bilingual children was comparable to that of monolingual children.

Sixty-three toddlers, which included both bilingual and monolingual kids, completed five tests that were designed to assess language development and cognitive skills. While completing the tests, the toddlers were intentionally exposed to distractions. Meanwhile, the parents completed vocab checklists and a language exposure interview to assess the language that the tiny tots were exposed to.

The results of the study showed that bilingual kids did have a comparable vocabulary to monolingual kids; being raised bilingual did not lead to a speech or language delay. And in fact, the bilingual kids also demonstrated enhanced cognitive skills and better focus in completing the tasks whilst being distracted.

Sniffing Out Unfamiliar Languages

The second study was presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Psychologist Janet Werker of the University of British Columbia evaluated infants that were 4 or 6 months old. The infants were being raised in bilingual households (Spanish and Catalan). They were shown silent videos of people’s faces as they were speaking English and French. The infants were able to use nonverbal cues from the facial expressions to distinguish between the two languages, although they had never before been exposed to either language. Werker noted that her research suggested that language separation is an innate ability, and that bilingual kids further hone this ability over time.

Bilingual Kids Cartoon

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Early Brain Differentiation

And last but certainly not least, consider a third study from researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. After noting that younger kids acquire additional languages more readily than do adults, the researchers wanted to determine if there was a specific brain mechanism that lent itself to the acquisition of a second language. The study, which was published in the Journal of Phonetics, measured brain activity and compared it to language exposure and speech abilities.

The researchers found that babies are best able to acquire a second language if they are exposed to it before their first birthday. The measurements of brain activity revealed that the brains of bilingual kids remained more flexible when exposed to a variety of speech sounds in both languages. The researchers also emphasized that the ideal acquisition of a second language occurs through “social interactions and daily exposure.” But although exposure to a second language is best done as soon as possible, children of all ages can benefit from exercising their brains with a new language.

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