Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Book Review: Introduction to Bilingualism (chapter 6): Contradictory and Inconclusive Research

Just joining us here at Baby Bilingual? Check out parts 1 (defining bilingualism) and 2 (language development in children) and 3 (features of bilingual speech) of my review/summary of Charlotte Hoffmann's Introduction to Bilingualism (click on the blue words).

Okay, so "Contradictory and Inconclusive Research" isn't really the title of this chapter, but that's the gist. Hoffmann details a number of research studies about bilingualism from the past century, telling us that we can't trust most of them and that the rest aren't large enough in scope to generalize and apply to other groups of learners. (For example, no longer do we believe that bilingualism causes stuttering and left-handedness!)

However, she does cite recent research that drew conclusions about the effects of bilingualism on children; while these studies had shortcomings as far as their generalizability, overall they did find more positive than negative results. Here's what struck me:

One researcher proposes that a higher IQ is "simultaneously the cause and effect of bilingualism" (p. 124), while another concluded that bilinguals "showed greater cognitive flexibility and were capable of more complex analytical strategies in their approach to language operations" (125). (To be fair, other researchers have found that bilingualism has no effect on intelligence, which at least invalidates early research that warned of lower IQ scores for bilingual kids.)

Want to hear more pro-bilingualism? How about "bilinguals may possess greater sensitivity towards verbal and nonverbal feedback cues than monolinguals [because they have a] wider and more varied range of experience than monolinguals, as they have access to two cultures and operate in two different systems" (126). And, "there is no evidence that bilinguals suffer any negative effects in their development on account of their bilingualism, nor do they acquire a split view of the world" (134).


(Or perhaps just convinced there's no way to quantify once and for all the cognitive effects of bilingualism?)

Click here to read part 5 of this review.

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