children are faster at switching tasks than children who speak
only one language, a study says.
However, the study also found that bilinguals are slower to
acquire vocabulary than monolinguals because they must divide
their time between two languages while the latter focus on only
Raluca Barac and Ellen Bialystok of York University, Toronto in
Canada tested 104 children. They compared the test results of
English-speaking monolinguals to those of Chinese-English
bilinguals, French-English bilinguals and Spanish-English
Bilingual and monolingual children were asked to press a computer
key as they viewed a series of images -- either of animals or of
depictions of colours, the journal Child Development reported.
When the responses were limited to either of the two categories,
the children responded at the same speed. But when the children
were asked to switch, from animals to a colour, and press a
different button for the new category, bilinguals were faster at
making the change than were monolinguals, said a university
Researchers often use this switching task to gauge a set of mental
processes known as executive functioning, generally defined as the
ability to pay attention, plan, organise and strategise.
"In the simplest terms, the switching task is an indicator of the
ability to multi-task," said Peggy McCardle, chief of the Child
Development and Behaviour Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which
provided funding for the study.
"Bilinguals have two sets of language rules in mind, and their
brains apparently are wired to toggle back and forth between them
depending on the circumstances," said McCardle.