Children with greater exposure to multiple languages may be better communicators

Posted on May 15, 2015

Katherine Kinzler, associate professor of psychology and an expert on language and social development explained that “Children in multilingual environments have extensive social practice in monitoring who speaks what to whom, and observing the social patterns and allegiances that are formed based on language usage”.

In a recent study, researchers from University of Chicago had 72 4- to 6- year- old children participate in a social communication task. The children were from one of three language backgrounds: monolinguals, exposures (children who primarily heard and spoke English, but they had some regular exposure to speakers of another language); and bilinguals.

Each child who participated sat on one side of a table across from an adult and played a communication game that required moving objects in a grid. The child was able to see all of the objects, but the adult on the other side of the grid had some squares blocked. To make sure that children understood that the adult could not see everything, the child first played the game from the adult’s side.

Subsequently, the adult would ask the child to move an object in the grid. For example, she would say, “I see a small car, could you move the small car?” The child could see three cars: small, medium and large. The adult, however, could only see two cars: the medium and the large ones. To correctly interpret the adult’s intended meaning, the child would have to take into account that the adult could not see the smallest car, and move the one that the adult actually intended–the medium car.

The researchers reported that monolingual children were not as good at understanding the adult’s intended meaning in this game, as they moved the correct object only about 50 percent of the time.

However, mere exposure to another language improved children’s ability to understand the adult’s perspective. The children in the exposure group selected correctly 76 percent of the time, and the bilingual group took the adult’s perspective in the game correctly 77 percent of the time.

These findings indicate that being exposed to multiple languages gives children a different social experience, which could help children develop more effective communication skills.

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Category(s):Child Development

Source material from Here


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