2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
Bilingual children acquire the ability to distinguish languages at a very young age. This is the conclusion reached by a team of Canadian and American scientists who studied the reaction of bilingual children to switching codes between French and English. Research article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Bilingualism is knowledge of two (and more - for multilingualism) languages equally. Young bilingual children (with two parents speaking different languages) can perceive and learn two languages from early childhood (both the first, the main language, and the second, in which they are less spoken) at the same speed as children- monolinguals teach one. And although bilingualism is often studied among people of different ages, the mechanisms responsible for processing two language systems at an early age are still not fully understood.
The authors of the new work studied how "code switching" (spontaneous switching between two languages during a conversation) is perceived at an early age. For their experiment, they selected 24 children (aged 19 to 21 months) whose parents speak French and English. The children were shown pictures of two objects and asked to show them the object named in the sentence pronounced in French or English. The switching of codes in the sentence occurred at the moment of naming the object before the designation of the article (Look! Find the chien!) Or after (That one looks fun! Le chien!). The researchers also repeated their experiment on 24 bilingual adults to examine changes in perception of code switching based on age.
Using an i-tracker (a device for measuring eye movements), the researchers measured how the size of the pupils of the participants in the experiment changed when the codes were switched. An increase or decrease in the diameter of the pupils is an involuntary reaction that occurs during information processing. Scientists hypothesized that switching the codes would cause the pupil to enlarge. The researchers also measured eye movements while observing the desired object.
The results of the study showed that both bilingual children and bilingual adults, on average, looked at the object presented to them 150 ms longer if it was named without switching the code (in the same language) than if the code was switched after the name of the article. By measuring the size of the pupil during the perception of the code switching, the scientists found that in both bilingual children and bilingual adults, the pupils significantly (p <0.05) dilate, and to a greater extent when the codes are switched from the main language to the additional one.
Plot of changes in pupil size over time after the presentation of the word. Horizontal - time after the presented word. Vertically - the language of the heard sentence (main for the participant of the experiment and additional). Each line indicates the change in pupil size over time. Red shows the change in the pupil when switching the code. Significant (p <0.05) changes in size are highlighted in gray.
Thus, the results of the study show that bilingual children acquire the ability to distinguish languages at a very early age and do it with the same success as adults.
Research on bilingualism examines not only the mechanisms of learning two native languages in childhood, but also the peculiarities of their influence on speech in adulthood. So, in our article you can read about how children learn the phonetic system of the language before they learn to speak it.