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Bilingual Children Can Distinguish Voices in Languages They Don't Know

Bilingual children are better than their monolingual peers at recognizing and distinguishing voices—even in a language they don't know, according to new research from New York University.

Published in the journalĀ Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, the study examined how children process information about who is talking—and joined a growing body of research that demonstrates the benefits of bilingualism.

In the study, 41 children—22 English-only speakers and 19 bilingual children—listened to different voices speaking English and German—then had to determine whether a pair of words was spoken by the same person or two different people.


The children classified as bilingual all spoke English and had daily exposure to a second language, (other than German) through a family member living in the household.

When listening to English, bilingual children were better at discerning and learning to identify voices. They were also faster at learning voices. When hearing German, bilingual children were better at discerning voices.

"The study is a strong test of the benefits of bilingualism because it looked for differences in both a language familiar to all participants and one unfamiliar to them," said lead researcher Susannah Levi, an associate professor in the department and communicative sciences at New York University. "The bilingual advantage occurred even in a language that was unfamiliar."

Research on bilingual children has found them to be better at some cognitive tasks and things like taking on the perspective of another person.

These findings, and others like it, are an indication of why more school districts and states are embracing the benefits of bilingualism—in particular, supportingĀ dual-language programs and seals of biliteracy, a form of special recognition on high school diplomas for graduates who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages.

Photo Credit: First-grade teacher Amy Grow high-fives Asmo Isse, 6, during a parent-teacher conference at Discovery Community School while Asmo's mother, Safia Tohyare, left, watches.

--Swikar Patel/Education Week

Further Reading

Just 20 Percent of K-12 Students Are Learning a Foreign Language

How Much Foreign Language Is Being Taught in U.S. Schools?

Schools Falter at Keeping ELL Families in the Loop

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