Kids From Bilingual Households More Flexible Thinkers, Research Shows

09/14/2011 02:46 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2011
  • Patricia Kuhl

This piece comes to us courtesy of Education Nation's The Learning Curve blog. Patricia Kuhl, professor of early childhood learning and a co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, writes.

Babies are whizzes at taking in new information, especially when it comes to languages. At the University of Washington's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, we're studying how infants' brain activity in response to language relates to their later speaking ability.

The research goes beyond learning languages though. We're interested in what makes young brains so capable of absorbing new information, which could reveal how to maintain learning throughout life.

Our most recent studies investigate the brains of babies being raised in bilingual households. In these situations, babies' brains have a lot to take in - how do they make sense of the new words in two languages?

Here are some of our findings so far:

1. Brains of bilingual babies remain open to language learning.

In our latest study, we found that the brains of the bilingual infants seemed to remain "open" to learning for a longer period of time compared to monolingual infants. Because we now know that the early brain wiring appears to be different for monolinguals and bilinguals within the first year of life, it emphasizes just how important it is to have high quality interactions and input from the start. In fact, we also found that the more the children heard in that language as infants, the larger their vocabulary was later.