Children who grow up learning to speak two languages switch between their different tasks faster than those who learn to speak only one language.

Bilingual children are on the other hand slower in remembering vocabulary than their monolingual peers as they divide their time between two languages, found Raluca Barac and Ellen Bialystok of York University, Canada. 

During the study which included 104 children, researchers asked bilingual and monolingual children to press a computer key as they viewed a series of images, either of animals or of depictions of colors. 

When they were limited to either of the two categories, the children responded at the same speed but when they were asked to switch, from animals to a color, and press a different button for the new category, bilinguals were faster. 

The test was used as a parameter of mental processes known as executive functioning, commonly defined as the ability to pay attention, plan, organize and strategize, the authors explained in the article published in the journal Child Development. 

“In the simplest terms, the switching task is an indicator of the ability to multitask,” said Peggy McCardle, chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the research. 

During verbal ability tests, monolingual kids scored higher for vocabulary, word meaning and grammar compared with bilingual ones. 

“Bilinguals have two sets of language rules in mind, and their brains apparently are wired to toggle back and forth between them depending on the circumstances,” McCardle further explained. 

SJM/TE

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