Children who grow up in homes where multiple languages are spoken tend to become effective communicators, a University of Chicago study says. Researchers say that such children learn to pay closer attention when someone speaks, because they have had to learn more than one language.
Along the way, such children also learn more about body language, the tone of the speaker, and the overall perspective regarding which the speech is being made. The overall attention that children pay to what is being communicated helps make them better communicators as well.
"Children in multilingual environments have extensive social practice in monitoring who speaks what to whom, and observing the social patterns and allegiances that are formed based on language usage," said Katherine Kinzler, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago who co-authored the report.
During the study, researchers let 72 children ages 4 to 6 play a game with adults. In the game, the adults asked the kids to move an object that was placed in front of them on a table. The objects were placed in such a manner that all were visible from the child's side, but blocked from the adult's side.
The children were in one of three categories: monolinguals, bilinguals,and exposures. The third category included children who primarily spoke English, but were exposed to other languages as well.
The children were first asked to play for the adult's side and then from their own side. The goal was to see whether the child was able to take into account his or her ability to see all the objects while moving them as per the adult's direction.
The researchers found that the children who were exposed to more than one language performed the best, followed by the monolinguals. Bilinguals chose to move the correct object 77 percent of the time, while those just exposed to another language were right 76 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the children who knew only English moved the correct object 50 percent of the time.
The researchers thus concluded that even a little exposure to another language helps enhance children's communication skills.
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