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Cognitive Effects Of Early Bilingualism Essay

2500 words - 10 pages

The American educational system has fallen behind other leading nations in the world in many respects, one of which is in bilingual instruction. This has traditionally been overlooked in the United States until the high school level. American children should be better prepared for the growing globalism and technological advances instead of losing educational opportunities due to lack of foresight. One necessary step is to introduce second language acquisition earlier in the education program. In addition to purely economic reasons, the positive effects to the cognitive development of the brain when introduced to a second language are many. The age of acquisition is crucial due to the plasticity of the brain which, according to the critical period hypothesis, begins to plateau after five years of age(Bialystok, 2012). The current policy in early education limits greatly the amount of extracurricular lessons provided in accordance with government policies such as No Child Left Behind, which restricts school funding based on standardized testing only in certain subject areas. School programs, realistically beginning in elementary education, should include foreign language study due to the strong evidence that bilingualism in children can develop higher cognitive abilities which can be enhanced with proficiency and positively influence skills in other areas.

Old arguments suggest that, “children who are instructed bilingually from an early age will suffer cognitive or intellectual retardation in comparison with their monolingually instructed counterparts” (Diaz 24). Much of the research from the past supporting this argument focused on older bilinguals, mostly adults who may have shown competent abilities in a second language but who had much later ages of acquisition and who usually acquired the second language outside of the home. Many early studies in this field worked with children of immigrants who showed lower abilities in cognitive tasks most likely because of the lack of proficiency in the second language (L2) and lack of proper schooling in relation to this deficiency (Kovács 307).
In correlation with poorly chosen test subjects, the studies were typically done with orthographic representations of words that would have been more difficult for younger test subjects to work with. For example, a study done by Ton Dijkstra, Professor of Psycholinguistics and Multilingualism at the Donders Institute, which focused only on adult English/Dutch bilinguals--the youngest being fifteen years old, all of whom studied their L2 in a middle or high school level. This study included only written examples of words and had the subjects determine if the word was English or Dutch. The results were able to somewhat prove Dijkstra’s theory of Bilingual interactive activation (BIA) which underlines the effects orthography has on L1 and L2 word retrieval that is “assuming, of course, that the same orthography is used in the input” (Dijkstra 217). ...

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