Don’t you wish you were a bilingual baby?

Being a boring monolingual young adult I have always been fascinated at my peers’ ability in mastering a second or even third language at a young age beside English. I always thought these bilingual kids were so much smarter than I was for I surely did not have the capacity to become fluent in a second language as well as them in a mere few years as they did. It turns out my hunch was right; those infants and young children who grow up in a home where 2 or more languages are spoken have increased cognitive advantages when compared with a child of the same age who only knows or speaks a single language.


The  National University of Singapore and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences worked in conduction with multiple hospitals in Singapore to examine bilingual young children as Singapore has a relatively high number of bilingual families compared to most cities in the world. What the researchers did was conduct a visual test among bilingual and monolingual 6 moth old infants. Because the children are so young and their speech skills are still developing the researches throughout a visual test would be the most accurate and effective in their study. The infants were shown two different pictures; they were only shown the second picture when they became disinterested in the first which was a familiar object such as a teddy bear. the bilingual babies became disinterested in the images faster than the monolingual babies. The second imagine they showed the babies was a new animal, something the babies were unfamiliar with; the bilingual babies were more interested in the second unfamiliar picture than they were with the first picture of a teddy bear. My question about this particular study is how did the scientist objectively and factually determine when the babies were “bored” with the image if this was purely a visual test? How did they measure the disinterest? 


The researchers in this study were able to connect it to previous studies in which the infants’ fondness for the second unfamiliar image and the speed at which they become bored with the images correlate with cognitive preference in multiple areas “such as advanced performance in concept formation, non-verbal cognition, expressive and receptive language, and IQ tests” (ScienceDaily). Previous studies associated with this visual testing of bilingual infants found that babies who were bored with the image at a quick rate “demonstrated higher performance in various domains of cognition and language later on as children” (ScienceDaily). This relates to our class discussion about correlation v. causation. While I think it is likey that exposure to two languages is a cause of better brain function perhaps there are other factors undiscovered. The scientists followed these 6 month old until they reached the age of 9. They hope to examine the group of infants who were exposed to 2 languages at birth and the monolingual infants who would eventually learn a second langue to see if the exposure to a second langue at such an early age has long term cognitive benefits as well. 

Researchers came to the conclusion that bilingual children have water or better information processing skills because form such young age they are learning to speak and differentiate between two languages. I think this study is very interesting because it makes sense that of young children are constantly stimulated by a variety of words and phrases and not jus the same ones repeated daily their brain would be more advanced in telling them apart and process the meaning of the words when they reached the age to begin speaking.

The original findings of the study can be found here.


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