The effect of bilingualism on the cognitive skills of young children was investigated by comparing performance of 162 children who belonged to one of two age groups (approximately 3- and 4.5-year-olds) and one of three language groups on a series of tasks examining executive control and word mapping. The children were monolingual English speakers, monolingual French speakers, or bilinguals who spoke English and one of a large number of other languages. Monolinguals obtained higher scores than bilinguals on a receptive vocabulary test and were more likely to demonstrate the mutual exclusivity constraint, especially at the younger ages. However, bilinguals obtained higher scores than both groups of monolinguals on three tests of executive functioning: Luria's tapping task measuring response inhibition, the opposite worlds task requiring children to assign incongruent labels to a sequence of animal pictures, and reverse categorization in which children needed to reclassify a set of objects into incongruent categories after an initial classification. There were no differences between the groups in the attentional networks flanker task requiring executive control to ignore a misleading cue. This evidence for a bilingual advantage in aspects of executive functioning at an earlier age than previously reported is discussed in terms of the possibility that bilingual language production may not be the only source of these developmental effects.
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