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Language and Cognitive Aspects of Child Bilingualism

Research Observations and Classroom Applications

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Maria Andreou

This book investigates how bilingualism affects children’s language, cognitive and narrative abilities. The data sample derives from 209 8-12 years old bilingual children, in three different targeted languages (Greek-English, Greek-German, Greek-Albanian) along with 100 monolingual Greek children. The children completed baseline and experimental tasks measuring their vocabulary, grammar, cognitive skills, and narrative production abilities. The outcome of this work reveals that learning to read and write in two languages is beneficial for the development of language and cognitive skills. A strong case can be made to the growing bilingual communities in Germany and beyond to provide literacy training in both languages within mainstream schools, afternoon classes outside of the curriculum or in community schools.

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1 Introduction

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The aim of this research is to investigate the effects of bilingualism on verbal and nonverbal cognition, specifically how bilingualism affects language, cognitive and narrative abilities in bilingual children. Child bilingualism refers to children who are equally fluent speakers in two languages, and is a phenomenon that today applies to most countries of the world and crosscuts all social classes. Bilingual children, long considered a special group of language users as monolinguals were assumed to be the norm, have in recent years become the focus of research in cognitive psychology, linguistics and cognitive neuroscience.

A wealth of studies has investigated how the experience of being bilingual shapes our language and cognitive abilities and the way we produce narratives. In terms of their language abilities, bilingual children seem to have smaller vocabularies compared to their monolingual peers (see, for instance, Bialystok 2010), whereas their grammatical abilities may differ from those of monolingual children depending on the grammatical structure tested (Marinis and Chondrogianni 2010). In terms of their cognitive abilities, there is conflicting evidence about whether or not bilingualism leads to advantages in Executive Functions, i.e., the cognitive processes responsible for goal-oriented behavior, the capacity to think ahead, suppress impulses, and temporarily hold information (Bialystok 2011; Morales, Calvo and Bialystok 2013; Paap, Johnson and Sawi 2015; Valian 2015). Many studies have shown that systematic use of the two languages leads to a bilingual advantage in cognitive control (Adesope, Lavin, Thompson and Ungerleider 2010), but not all studies have found this...

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