|Research on bilinguol language and cognition shows that the human brain is perfectly capable of dealing with two or more languages simultaneously from birth. In many parts of the world growing up multilingual is the norm: if children hear enough of both languages and have enough motivation and fun, they will pick them up. What many people don't know is that the experience of dealing with two languages seems to give bilingual children some general cognitive advantages in other domains, These advantages are particularly evident in tasks that involve cognitive flexibi lity and the control of attention: bilingual children seem to be better at selectively paying attention, at inhibiting irrelevant information, and at switching between alternative solutions to a problem, In contrast, such children do not seem to have an advantage over monolinguals with respect to functions that depend on the way knowledge is represented, For example, they don't seem to be any better at encodirg problems, accessing relevant knowledge, or drawing logicol inferences
What is the link between enhanced cognitive control and bilingualism? Bilingual speakers must d'evelop a poweriul mechanism for keeping the two languages separate, so that fluency in one language can be achieved without intrusions from the unwanted language. Therefore, the bilingual child's constant experience of having two languages available and inhibiting one when the other is activated enhances their ability to multitask in other domains, There is more good news for bilingual children: it's been suggested that some of these cognitive advantages are maintained in old age, If these results are confirmed by future research, it will be possible to conclude that bilingualism provides a defence against the decline of general processing functions that is afeature of normal cognitive aging.
Afurther spin-<Jff of bilingualism is higher awareness of language and greater ability to think about it and talk about it, Bilingual children have a greater ability to focus on the form of language, abstracting away from meaning, Parents of bilingual children often report that their children engage in 'language play' that may take the form of 'funny accents' or impossible literal translations between one language and another. Many parents also report that bilingual children have more precocious reading skills, and this has recently been confirmed experimentally. Bilingual children recognise symbolic letter-sound correspondences earlier than monolingual children, although this does not appear to be related to greater awareness of the sounds themselves and it is also a function of the specific languages acquired as well as of the level of proficiency attained.
Because of their experience of selecting languages according to the perceived linguistic competence of the person they are addressing, bilingual children have also been said to have an enhanced 'awareness of the other'. This often goes under the heading of 'Theory of Mind', which is a term used to describe the ability to understand
|other people's mental states, and more specifically that other people may have beliefs, desires and intentions different from one's own. The cognitive abilities involved in Theory of Mind normally emerge around the age of 4 years in monolingual children; they are permanently impaired in autistic children. It has been reported that bilingual children develop Theory of Mind, on average, a year earlier than monolingual children. It is remarkable that the experience of dealing with two languages may have such extensive repercussions in so many apparently unrelated domains of cognitive development.
Do bilingual children confuse their languages? Ahopelessly mixed language is the thing that many parents in bilingual families typically fear, but recent research has completely discredited this idea, First, using new techniques for studying whether babies can tell the difference between one outside stimulus and another researchers have leamed that monolingual babies' perceptual abilities are remarkably fine-tuned very early on: they know a lot about what their language sounds like long before they start producing their first words, and even at the age of a few months will notice when someone who was speaking English switches to speaking, say, Japanese. This makes it very implausible that bilingual children do not realize that they are hearing two languages, Second, research on 'code-switching' swapping back and forth between languages -shows that bilingual children, like bilingual adults, often switch from one language to another in order to achieve particular communicative effects, For example, even if they are talking in Language A, they may switch to Language Bto report something that somebody said, if the speech they are reporting was originally in Language B. Or they may switch because of the topic they are talking about, or simply to play games with their languages. Naturally, this kind of code-switching takes place most often when talking to other bilingual children. Moreover, code-switching is not random but generally obeys a remarkably strict grammar, For example, aSpanish-English bilingual child is much more likely to say 'La house' than 'The casa' (Spanish article + English noun, rather than English article + Spanish noun), apparently favouring the combination that is more informative in terms of grammatical features like gender and number. Far from producing random mixings due to confusion, in other words, bilingual children know when and how it is appropriate to mix their languages. There is also plenty of evidence that the grammaticol rules of each of the languages are kept separate most of the time in the course of development
While bilingual children usually are 'late talkers' who start speaking later than monolingual children, there is little evidence that bilingual languages affect each other -they neither speed up nor delay normal acquisition processes. Instead, children's development in each of the two languages follows the same milestones as in monolingual children,