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Bilingual Kids’ Language Just As Strong & Creative in Storytelling

A new Canadian study shows that French-English bilingual children use just as many words while telling a story in either language as do children who only speak English.

The findings, published in the journal Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, also show that bilingual children also demonstrated high levels of cognitive flexibility, the ability to switch between thinking about different concepts.

Previous research has shown that bilingual children score lower than monolingual children on traditional vocabulary tests. The new findings may change the understanding of multiple languages and cognition in children.

“The past research is not surprising,” said Dr. Elena Nicoladis, lead author and professor in the department of psychology in the faculty of science at the University of Alberta.

“Learning a word is related to how much time you spend in each language. For bilingual children, time is split between languages. So, unsurprisingly, they tend to have lower vocabularies in each of their languages. However, this research shows that as a function of storytelling, bilingual children are equally strong as monolingual children.”

“These results suggest that parents of bilingual children do not need to be concerned about long-term school achievement,” said Nicoladis. “In a storytelling context, bilingual kids are able to use this flexibility to convey stories in creative ways.”

For the study, the researchers examined a group of French-English bilingual children who had been taught two languages since birth, rather than learning a second language later in life.

They used a new, highly sensitive measure for examining cognitive flexibility, a participant’s ability to switch between games with different rules, while maintaining accuracy and reaction time. Their study builds on previous research examining vocabulary in bilingual children who have learned English as a second language.

Overall, the bilingual children used just as many words to tell a story in English as monolingual children. The children also used just as many words in French as they did in English when telling a story.

“We found that the number of words that bilingual children use in their stories is highly correlated with their cognitive flexibility — the ability to switch between thinking about different concepts,” said Nicoladis. “This suggests that bilinguals are adept at using the medium of storytelling.”

Source: University of Alberta

Bilingual Kids’ Language Just As Strong & Creative in Storytelling

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Bilingual Kids’ Language Just As Strong & Creative in Storytelling. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 22 Dec 2019 (Originally: 22 Dec 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 22 Dec 2019
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