As Ofsted's Chief Inspector notes the results of a survey showing that only 10% of schools felt that the pupil premium was having a "significant" effect on disadvantaged pupils, a recent research report has demonstrated that the 'bilingual advantage' extends to economically disadvantaged children.
In a study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Pascale Engel de Abreu of the University of Luxembourg and colleagues including Ellen Bialystok examine the effects of speaking two languages on the executive functioning of lower-income children.
A total of 80 second graders from low-income families participated in the study. Half of the children were first or second generation immigrants to Luxembourg, originally from Northern Portugal, who spoke both Luxembourgish and Portuguese on a daily basis. The other half of the children lived in Northern Portugal and were monolingual in Portuguese.
The researchers first tested the children’s vocabularies, then asked them to find a missing piece that would complete a specific geometric shape. The children then participated in two 'control' tasks that looked at their ability to direct and focus their attention when distractions were present.
Although the bilingual children knew fewer words than their monolingual peers, and did not show an advantage for representation tasks, they performed better on the control tasks than did the monolingual children.
“This is the first study to show that, although they may face linguistic challenges, minority bilingual children from low-income families demonstrate important strengths in other cognitive domains.....Our study suggests that intervention programs that are based on second language teaching are a fruitful avenue for future research” says Engel de Abreu.
Publication: Engel de Abreu, P.M.J., Cruz-Santos, A., Tourinho, C.J., Martin, R., & Bialystok, E. (in press). Bilingualism enriches the poor: Enhanced cognitive control in low-income minority children. Psychological Science.
In a second study published in the International Journal of Bilingualism, researchers set lingual, arithmetical and physical tasks for 121 children, aged about nine, in Scotland and Sardinia, Italy. The Glasgow-based children spoke English and Gaelic, or English only, while the Sardinian cohort spoke either Italian only, or Italian and Sardinian. They found that the 62 bilingual children were "significantly more successful in the tasks set for them".
The study was conducted by Strathclyde University with colleagues from the University of Cagliari in Sardinia. It was led by Dr Fraser Lauchlan, an honorary lecturer at Strathclyde's school of psychological sciences. He said: "Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them. Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively."