Children exposed to other languages are better at understanding other people – Quartz
A new studyÂ (paywall) suggests that children who speak multiple languages are better at understanding other people. AndÂ not only those who are fluent, but those that are simply exposed to another languageÂ in their daily lives.
Samantha Fan,Â Zoe Liberman,Â Boaz Keysar, and Katherine Kinzler, from the University of Chicago, tested this theory by gettingÂ an adult to ask bilingual, monolingual and â€œexposedâ€ children aged four to six to move objects blocked from the adultâ€™s point of view. The children could see a range of differently-sized toy cars, including a small one that the adult couldnâ€™t see.
When the adult said â€œI see a small carâ€ and asked the child to move it, the bilingual and exposed children moved the medium carâ€”that is, the smallest car that the adult could seeâ€”75% of the time. Children without language skills or exposure only did so 50% of the time. The kids who had been exposed to other languages were able to understand a different perspective better, the research suggests.
â€œEarly language exposure is essential to developing a formal language system, but may not be sufficient for communicating effectively,â€ the researchers said. â€œTo understand a speakerâ€™s intention, one must take the speakerâ€™s perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking.â€
They also notedÂ what they call the exposure advantage, which is the fact that kids who couldnâ€™t speak other languages but were exposed to them performed as well as the kids who were bilingual. â€œThus, the communicative advantages demonstrated by the bilinguals may be social in origin,â€ they said. â€œFor millennia, multilingual exposure has been the norm. Our study shows that such an environment may facilitate the development of perspective-taking tools that are critical for effective communication.â€