Socio-cognitive advantages in early second language learners and young bilinguals

Agostini, Valeria (2021). Socio-cognitive advantages in early second language learners and young bilinguals. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Early bilingual experience has been shown to be beneficial to general cognitive skills. Young bilinguals have displayed advantages in cognitive control measures, demonstrating superior abilities in control over attention and switching between rules (Bialystok & Martin, 2004). Young bilinguals have also revealed a less egocentric approach in solving perspective taking problems (Fan et al., 2015) and enhanced fluency and flexibility of thinking during creative production (Leikin et al., 2014).
This thesis explored the possibility that learning a second language (L2) at school in the first year of formal education could trigger the advantages shown by children who acquire a L2 in natural contexts. The present work also investigated two main accounts, that is the socio-pragmatic and the Executive Functions account, for a young multilingual perspective taking advantage in referential communication.
Chapter 2 and 3 present a longitudinal study conducted on monolingual children aged 4-5 from Reception classes in Primary schools in England. Three groups of monolingual children with different amount of exposure to a second language performed tasks of attentional control, cognitive flexibility, conversational perspective taking and divergent thinking. Testing took place in the first few months of the school year and 24 weeks later. Differences between the groups were found at the second (but not first) testing point. The two groups of children learning a second language at school outperformed the control group in the tasks of cognitive flexibility and referential perspective-taking. The group with the greatest amount of L2 exposure showed an additional superiority in cognitive flexibility as compared to the group with a limited L2 exposure and recorded higher scores in creative fluency and flexibility as compared to the control group not receiving any L2 education. This suggests that early L2 learning in formal settings can enhance cognitive flexibility and referential perspective taking, even if children receive a minimal amount of exposure. However, the amount of L2 exposure increases cognitive flexibility. Results also showed that early L2 learning can enhance creative fluency and creative flexibility, provided that children are exposed to the new language for a considerable amount of time.
Chapter 4 presents a cross-sectional study that compared young multilinguals and their monolingual peers in two versions (a social and a non-social version) of a referential perspective taking task. Measures of inhibitory control and a task of emotion comprehension were also administered. Multilingual children outperformed monolingual children in both the social and the non-social condition of the communication experiment. Multilinguals demonstrated superior inhibitory control in the inhibition tasks, but no difference was recorded between multilinguals’ and monolinguals’ performances in the TEC. Although inhibitory control and emotion understanding were positively related with children’s performance in the communication tasks, neither inhibition nor emotion comprehension could account for multilinguals’ superior performance in the task. We speculated that a third factor, that is metalinguistic awareness, could be crucial for multilinguals’ superiority in referential perspective taking.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
School or Department: School of Psychology
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology


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