The Economist on Raising Baby to be Bilingual

Via the Chinese Lessons blog, here is an interesting article from the Economist on the benefits of raising children bilingually:

A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may help resolve this question by getting to the nub of what is going on in a bilingual child’s brain, how a second language affects the way he thinks, and thus in what circumstances being bilingual may be helpful. Agnes Kovacs and Jacques Mehler at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste say that some aspects of the cognitive development of infants raised in a bilingual household must be undergoing acceleration in order to manage which of the two languages they are dealing with.

The aspect of cognition in question is part of what is termed the brain’s “executive function”. This allows people to organise, plan, prioritise activity, shift their attention from one thing to another and suppress habitual responses. Bilingualism is common in Trieste which, though Italian, is almost surrounded by Slovenia. So Dr Kovacs and Dr Mehler looked at 40 “preverbal” seven-month-olds, half raised in monolingual and half in bilingual households, and compared their performances in a task that needs control of executive function.


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