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For Kids, Two Languages Can Be as Easy as One
Date:7/9/2009

Bilingual youngsters become 'more flexible learners,' researcher says

THURSDAY, July 9 (HealthDay News) - European researchers are contesting the assumption that bilingual toddlers have more trouble learning language skills than children who know just one language.

"While the remarkable performance of children acquiring one language is impressive, many children acquire more than one language simultaneously," said study author Agnes Melinda Kovacs, a research fellow at the International School for Advanced Studies, in Trieste, Italy. "As bilingual children presumably have to learn roughly twice as much as their monolingual peers [because they learn two languages instead of one], one would expect their language acquisition to be somewhat delayed. However, bilinguals pass the language development milestones at the same ages as their monolingual peers."

The finding, which appears online July 9 in Science, came from a test of the responses to verbal and visual cues from 64 babies who were 12 months old. They came from monolingual and bilingual families, although the study did not specify which languages the families spoke.

The toddlers were exposed to two sets of words that had different structural characteristics. After each word, the children viewed a special toy on either the left or right side of a screen, depending on the word's structure. They then were presented with words they had never heard before but that conformed to one of the two verbal structures. No toy followed.

Researchers determined whether the infants had learned the word structures by measuring the direction of their gaze after hearing each new word. Judging by their eye movements, the bilingual kids did better in recognizing words than their monolingual peers.

"We showed that pre-verbal, 12-month-old, bilingual infants have become more flexible at learning speech structures than monolinguals," Kovacs said. "When given th
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