As a new mother, I want to support my baby’s cognitive development, which includes four increasingly sophisticated stages of mental representation that a child passes through on her way to an adult level of intelligence. If I can find a method to improve her cognition, I will go for it without hesitation.
That is why when I heard the cognitive advantage in relation to bilingual children, I immediately did some research, digging through a bunch of academic papers, and here is what I found.
Does bilingualism help a child’s cognitive development? This issue has been a hotly contested debate over the decades among language researchers, educationalists, psychologists and sociologists.
Early studies believed bilingualism had detrimental effects on children’s cognitive development, such as weaker linguistic skills, mental confusion, lower IQ scores, academic retardation, and etc.
Under the scrutiny of contemporary scientists, these previous studies turned out to be problematic, due to their poor methodology, for example, not taking into account such vital factors as socio-economic status, age, gender, school history and etc.
It was not until the early 1960s a turning point was reached in the way that bilingualism and its positive effects on cognition were viewed. Several studies lend support to bilingual children demonstrate higher levels of meta-linguistic awareness, which involves the ability to think flexibly and abstractly about language, and thus have higher abilities to analyze linguistic input.
Moreover, research appears to suggest a positive relationship between bilingualism and a wide range of other cognitive measures, including superior performance on concept formation tasks (Bain, 1974), enhanced ability to restructure perceptual solutions (Balkan, 1970), stronger performances in rule discovery tasks (Bain, 1975), greater verbal ability and verbal intelligence (Bruck, Lambert, and Tucker, 1974; Hakuta, 1986; Weatherford, 1986), precocious levels of divergent thinking and creativity (Cummins & Gulutsan, 1974; Bamford and Mizokawa, 1991), and higher levels of cognitive development at an earlier age reached by bilingual children than their monolingual peers (Hamayan, 1986).
Besides, a bilingual’s unique access to two cultures enables them a wider range of perspectives and experiences than monolinguals, enhancing the possibility they think from different points of view.
Overall, with increasing attention to testing criteria and content, in more recent years scientists have overwhelmingly concluded that bilingualism per se does not have any negative effects on cognition.
Instead, the opposite increasingly appears to be the case; that high levels of bilingualism have accelerating effects on children’s cognitive development.
So, I got my information confirmed: bilingual education in early childhood DOES improve baby’s cognitive development. It is a case of one stone and two birds. Why not? Go for it!
P.S. The following papers were used for reference during writing this article and special thanks to the authors:
Lee, P. (1996). Cognitive development in bilingual children: A case for bilingual instruction in early childhood education, Bilingual Research Journal, summer.
Brasier, A. The relationship between bilingualism and the cognitive development of bilingual children, retrieved from world wide web: http://www.lib.nifs-k.ac.jp/HPBU/annals/an21/21-71.pdf on April 13, 2009.
Akbulut, Y (2007). Bilingual acquisition and cognitive development in early childhood: challenges to the research paradigm, Elementary Education Online, 6(3), 422-429.
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