Do Bilingual Babies Have More Versatile Brains?

Posted by Juan, 13 Apr

If you are a family that speaks more than two languages, then your children are in luck. Apparently babies who are exposed to two languages (baby talk doesn’t count) in their first year of life are more advantaged when it comes to their cognitive skills in comparison to their monolingual counterparts.

According to research, bilingual babies develop superior problem-solving skills. And even though babies don’t really have lots of problems to solve, the bilingual environment is a great boost on their mental development which makes them stand a better chance solving problems in adulthood.

The studies show that early exposure to multiple languages enhances “connectivity in areas of the brain involved in executive function, which refers to a range of cognitive capabilities related to planning, reasoning and problem solving.”

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Researchers from University of Washington recruited 16 11-month-old babies to test if this neurological advantage of multilingualism applied to babies who had not yet begun to talk. The selection was done through their parents where half of the babies they took were from families that only speak English and the other half from English-Spanish bilingual families.

The video below shows how the researchers measured brain activity of both babies:

The findings were documented in the Journal of Developmental Science and here is what the researchers found:

‘… babies from bilingual families exhibited strong brain responses to both the Spanish and English sounds… they were able to recognize and process both types as “phonetic sounds” rather than general noises, or “acoustic sounds.” Babies from English-speaking families, however, only responded to English sounds, suggesting that the Spanish sounds were not phonetically processed.’

This means even before they start speaking, they can identify linguistic sounds. However these neurological responses of bilingual babies occurred in specific areas of the brain in charge of executive function, such as the prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex but in monolingual babies, the responses didn’t reach into these areas.

In conclusion:

‘… the need to distinguish between two languages presents a cognitive challenge to bilingual babies that requires them to engage these brain areas, thereby strengthening their executive function capacities. [This] “suggests that bilingualism shapes not only language development, but also cognitive development more generally”…babies who are exposed to multiple languages are likely to get a head start at strengthening the connections in the parts of the brain that are necessary for flexible thought and problem solving.’

I am sure a big number of children from interracial families belong to this group ;-). So parents, lets get to learning those 'other' languages.

3 responses to "Do Bilingual Babies Have More Versatile Brains?"

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  1.   ladybarb says:
    Posted: 27 Apr

    That makes perfect sense. Learning two or more languages requires the brain to process in two different ways. I would think that doing that would make a person smarter, and better able to process and figure out problems. The more you learn, the more you know, the smarter you are. The Europeans (and Americans that I know that speak more than one language) that I know are much more versatile in what they know, and accept than most Americans that only speak one language.

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  2.   ladybarb says:
    Posted: 27 Apr

    That makes perfect sense. Learning two or more languages requires the brain to process in two different ways. I would think that doing that would make a person smarter, and better able to process and figure out problems. The more you learn, the more you know, the smarter you are. The Europeans that I know are much more versatile in what they know, and accept than most Americans that only speak one language.

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  3.   NYGriego says:
    Posted: 19 Apr

    I like to think I did develop one. I was learning English while my parents spoke to me in their native Greek all while I noticed that I understood Spanish speaking kids in school. Being multi-lingual and bi-cultural helps me understand people better than most others.

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