While previous research has found that children who are bilingual may have a more limited vocabulary in each language than their monolingual peers, a new study has added some context to this finding, and it’s all good news.
The researchers behind this work have found that bilingual children excel when telling stories and are giving their brains a brilliant workout and keeping up with their monolingual peers when they do so.
The University of Alberta research team looked at a group of French-English bilingual children aged between 4 and 6, who have all been taught two languages since birth.
They found that bilingual children used just as many words to tell a story — in both English and French — as monolingual children, Eureka Alert reports.
Because vocabulary is a predictor of school success, some parents of bilingual kids — who often have fewer words than kids who speak one language — may have worries about their child’s school performance.
But this new research tells us that those worries may be baseless.
“These results suggest that parents of bilingual children do not need to be concerned about long-term school achievement,” Elena Nicoladis, lead author and professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Psychology said.
Words as a super-power
This research suggests that the creative way bilingual children are using their words is, in fact, a bit of a super power.
Experts tell us that storytelling ability is another indicator of school readiness and a sign that children will thrive when they hit the classroom.
And it turns out that the bilingual kids in this new study told stories with relish. In more than one language. Using just as many words in their stories as their one-languaged peers. Bam!
“The past research [revealing lower vocabulary in bilingual kids] is not surprising,” Professor Nicoladis said.
“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.”