[RFHF] In the news: research on bilingualism and cognitive processing

Lorene Forman lorene at jcld.org
Fri Jan 20 12:58:18 PST 2012

Thanks for sharing that, Katie.  I am excited about passing on this good
news to our bilingual moms and dads in my district.  (It's ironic
how some monolinguals actually feel superior to bilinguals.  Oh, if they
only knew!!)

Off the topic of quick attention-shifting skills, but still on the topic of
bilingualism, I'd like to share the following...although
I'm probably preaching to the choir here:

In our libraries and communities, we should all be encouraging
bilingual parents to read to and help their children begin reading in their
first language *prior to* learning to read in English.  When a child
learns to read in his/her own language first, the vocabulary and sentence
structure are already familiar and the child won't be fumbling with a
strange language while trying to learn literacy decoding skills.  It just
makes sense.  (Imagine yourself, age 4, 5, 6, tackling your first written
words... in, say, German and not knowing what the words mean!)   Bilingual
children will transfer their decoding skills to English easily if they are
literate in their first language.  Sadly, many children from non-English
speaking homes never become literate in their own first language.

Because most of our school districts do *not* offer bilingual
elementary education, it's up to libraries to help promote first language
literacy as much as we can through educating the parents about the
importance of this and providing materials and story-times in the
language(s) most prevalent in our communities.

One 5 year old boy from a Spanish-speaking family in our district entered
kindergarten this last fall with almost no English skills.  He was moved
up to first grade after just the first few weeks of school.  Why?  Because
his superior literacy skills!  Before starting kindergarten, he was reading
books like *Diary of a Wimpy Kid* in Spanish for pleasure...and after a few
weeks exposure to English in kindergarten, he was reading fluently in
English as well...at 2nd grade level!  This boy's very devoted parents (who
have regularly attended Spanish story-times with their children at our
library over the years) had been reading to him and later having him read
to them in Spanish throughout his infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool years.

If there are non-English-speaking parents in your communities, encourage
them to read to their youngsters in the language they speak at home.  Their
children will be ahead of the game.


Lorene Forman
Jefferson County Library Youth Services

On Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 9:07 AM, Katie Anderson
<katie.anderson at state.or.us>wrote:

>  Hello!  I just read an excellent article on the benefits of
> bilingualism: "Leave Los Ninos Alone! The Mental Costs of Linguistic
> Assimilation" by  Julie Sedivy in Discover magazine online at:
> http://mblogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2012/01/19/leave-los-ninos-alone-the-mental-costs-of-linguistic-assimilation/
> ** **
> Below are key points I copied and pasted from the article, all except the
> first one are new to me. I find the last point particularly interesting and
> relevant to our work. Many early childhood professionals and bilingual
> parents ask if one method or another is better for teaching children to be
> bilingual. This new study *suggests* that compartmentalizing languages,
> speaking one language at home and another out of the home, *may* not have
> the same cognitive benefits as mixing languages and flipping between them
> throughout the day. Note, this is only one study which means this isn’t a
> definitive answer to the question and this study does not address the
> cultural and familial benefits of learning one’s native language.
> ·         The advantages [of bilingualism] seem to hinge on the cognitive
> machinery of *executive control*—mental processes that allow us to switch
> quickly between tasks or competing information.
> ·         Bilinguals tend to outperform monolinguals whenever they have
> to ignore distracting information and focus on some relevant dimension…
> [because]… bilingual speech, whether it overtly mixes languages or not, is
> a highly controlled process involving rapid-fire decisions about which
> words to choose and which ones to suppress.
> ·         A bilingual advantage for quick attention-shifting has been
> found in babies as young as seven months, well before these children ever
> utter their first words in either language.
> ·         the drawings of bilingual kindergarten-age kids were different
> from their monolingual peers. …monolingual children were fairly
> unadventurous… bilingual children… incorporated elements from completely
> different objects… This kind of cross-category mixing in children’s
> drawings tends not to occur until kids are about eight years old, putting
> the bilingual kids on an accelerated timeline for this particular skill.
> ·         At the far end of the lifespan, bilingualism may help postpone
> the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease; some bilingual
> Alzheimer’s populations have shown delays of four to five years in the
> onset of their symptoms as compared with their monolingual peers.
> ·         one recent study… compared Mandarin-English bilinguals,
> Spanish-English bilinguals, and monolingual English speakers living in San
> Diego… the Spanish-English speakers flipped between their languages on a
> daily basis. Mandarin-English speakers, on the other hand, kept their
> language use more compartmentalized. All three groups were given a test in
> which they had to switch between sorting visual images either by their
> color or by their shape. Only the Spanish-English bilinguals showed a
> relative advantage when confronted with a sudden category shift; the
> Mandarin-English speakers were no different on this score than the
> monolinguals.
>  Katie Anderson, Library Development Services
> * Youth Services Consultant * Oregon Center for the Book Coordinator *
> Oregon State Library, 250 Winter St. NE, Salem, OR 97301
> katie.anderson at state.or.us, 503-378-2528
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