A recent study released from the University of Chicago, reveals that children who are exposed to multilingual environments have more experience interpreting what the speaker says than children who are exposed only to single language environments.
The most interesting finding was that the children do not even have to be bilingual themselves; it is the exposure to more than one language that is the key for building effective social communication skills.
So how did they test this? The researchers had 72 children, aged 4-6 play a game with adults that involved moving objects according to the adults’ directions. The children were in three categories: monolinguals, bilinguals and a third group that of children who primarily spoke English, but were exposed to other languages as well.
“Children in multilingual environments have extensive social practice in monitoring who speaks what to whom, and observing the social patterns and allegiances that are formed based on language usage,” said Katherine Kinzler, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago who co-authored the report.
The results? The monolingual children were not as good at understanding the adult’s intended meaning in this game, as they moved the correct object only about 50 percent of the time. But mere exposure to another language improved children’s ability to understand the adult’s perspective and select the correct objects. The children in the third group selected correctly 76 percent of the time, and the bilingual group took the adult’s perspective in the game correctly 77 percent of the time.
This is important as it shows that children benefit directly from exposure to diverse lingual environments.