A new study, published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, has found that bilingual primary school children learn more effectively than monolinguals within noisy environments such as classrooms.
Anglia Ruskin University’s Dr Roberto Filippi carried out research in Cambridge primary schools, focusing on children aged between seven and 10.
The study discovered that bilingual children were more able to maintain focus on a main task, which in this case was the identification of the subject within a short sentence in the presence of noise.
Pupils who only speak one language did not reach the same level of efficiency, showing that noise negatively affects their ability to sustain attention, especially when comprehending more difficult sentences.
Dr Filippi, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin, said: “Previous research has shown that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive abilities, but there were no studies investigated whether these advantages extended to learning in noisy environments.
“Primary schools are the key stages for the development of formal learning in the first years of life. However, they are also remarkably noisy. Therefore the ability to filter out auditory interference is particularly important within the context of an educational environment.”
Dr Filippi was joined by international researchers from Birkbeck in London and the Northwestern University in Chicago. The study provides further evidence of the importance of learning a second language early in the UK educational system.
Following the findings of the study, the researchers have applied to the Leverhulme Trust for funding to conduct large-scale research in this area which will survey people of all ages in an attempt to track how bilingualism affects the brain throughout a person’s development.
Co-Editor of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition Dr Jubin Abutalebi comments “The elegant research carried out by Dr. Filippi and coworkers addresses an important field of enquiry within developmental psychology. In their contribution, the authors report that bilingual children have superior performance in controlling verbal interference as compared to their monolingual peers. However, as the authors underline this effect is dependent on how good bilingual children master their two languages. Dr. Abutalebi, one of the editors of ‘Bilingualism: Language and Cognition’, notes that this study may further add crucial evidence to the controversy surrounding research questions such as if and eventually how bilingualism enhances cognitive functions.”