The benefits of being bilingual can be seen in 11-month-old babies


Numerous studies point to the benefits of speaking more than one language, with research showing that bilingual adults have a higher volume of gray matter and could recover more easily from brain injuries.


Scientists have also found that the positive effects of bilingualism can be seen in young children, but a new study suggests that the benefits of exposing a person to more than one language can be seen even when we're just a few months old.


"Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practice at tasks related to executive function," said neuroscientist Naja Ferjan Ramírez from the University of Washington. "This suggests that bilingualism shapes not only language development, but also cognitive development more generally."

“我们的研究结果显示,在孩子开始说话前,双语环境实际上提供接受了执行力的训练,”华盛顿大学的神经系统科学家Naja Ferjan Ramírez说,“双语教育不仅塑造语言能力,还从总体上培养认知能力。”

According to the researchers, just as babies are about to turn 1 year old and start speaking themselves, they begin to make a change in how they process the sounds of spoken words, and this is where being raised in a bilingual household can be an advantage.


"Monolingual babies show a narrowing in their perception of sounds at about 11 months of age – they no longer discriminate foreign-language sounds they successfully discriminated at six months of age,"said one of the team, Patricia Kuhl. "But babies raised listening to two languages seem to stay 'open' to the sounds of novel languages longer than their monolingual peers, which is a good and highly adaptive thing for their brains to do."

“单语言环境下的婴儿从11个月开始开始逐渐缩小感知声音的范围——他们不再区分外语发音,在6个月大的时候还能区分,”研究组的Patricia Kuhl说,“和单语言环境的婴儿比较,听两种语言成长起来的婴儿听觉系统似乎对外来语言开放的时间会更长。对于大脑发育来说,这是极好的事,能够培养高度的适应能力。”

The findings, published in Developmental Science, are based on observations made of 16 11-month-old babies who took part in the experiment. Eight of the babies came from families where English was the only language spoken, whereas the remaining eight came from Spanish-English households.

研究成果发表在《发展科学》(Developmental Science),实验基于对16名11个月婴儿的观察,其中8名来自只说英语的家庭,另外8名来自同时说西班牙语和英语的家庭。

The scientists used magnetoencephalography (MEG) imaging to monitor the babies' brain activity as they listened to an 18-minute stream of speech sounds specific to either English or Spanish, or common to both.


The team found that when listening to the audio, the bilingual babies showed stronger responses in their prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices – regions of the brain associated with things like cognitive processing and decision making.


Interestingly, the researchers found that the bilingual babies displayed neural sensitivity to both English and Spanish sounds, suggesting they were indeed learning both languages.


Also, the monolingual babies weren't any more sensitive to English than the bilingual babies, meaning the cognitive burden of being exposed to two languages wasn't slowing the bilinguals' learning rates, despite the double whammy.


While the findings will need to be confirmed in a larger study with more babies, they could come as a relief to bilingual parents concerned that 'overexposing' their children to two languages might hamper their learning.


"The 11-month-old baby brain is learning whatever language or languages are present in the environment and is equally capable of learning two languages as it is of learning one language," said Ferjan Ramírez. "Our results underscore the notion that not only are very young children capable of learning multiple languages, but that early childhood is the optimum time for them to begin."

11个月大的孩子会学习环境给他们提供的任何语言,学两种语言跟学一种语言的能力是相等的,Ferjan Ramírez说,“我们的研究结果强调,虽然只有非常年幼的孩子有多语言的学习能力,但是童年也是多语言学习的最佳时期。



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