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Unformatted text preview: Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants Agnes Melinda Kova cs 1 and Jacques Mehler Cognitive Neuroscience Sector, Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati, Via Beirut 4, 34014 Trieste, Italy Edited by Susan E. Carey, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and approved February 12, 2009 (received for review November 11, 2008) Children exposed to bilingual input typically learn 2 languages without obvious difficulties. However, it is unclear how preverbal infants cope with the inconsistent input and how bilingualism affects early development. In 3 eye-tracking studies we show that 7-month-old infants, raised with 2 languages from birth, display improved cognitive control abilities compared with matched monolinguals. Whereas both monolinguals and bilinguals learned to respond to a speech or visual cue to anticipate a reward on one side of a screen, only bilinguals succeeded in redirecting their anticipatory looks when the cue began signaling the reward on the opposite side. Bilingual infants rapidly suppressed their looks to the first location and learned the new response. These findings show that processing representations from 2 languages leads to a domain-general enhancement of the cognitive control system well before the onset of speech. cognitive development u early bilingualism u executive functions u eye- tracking u infant cognition W hen I was talking to my paternal grandmother I had to speak in a manner that I later discovered was called English, and when I was talking to my mother or her parents I had to talk a language that afterward turned out to be Spanish notes J. L. Borges (1). In contemporary societies many children grow up in bilingual families and are faced with similar situa- tions. Just like the young J. L. Borges they successfully learn to cope with different languages. However, a single language milieu is still the standard model for investigating language acquisition even though a great proportion of children are raised with more than 1 language (2). Whereas infants who have to acquire 2 languages simultaneously face an important challenge, they pass language production milestones at an age similar to monolin- guals (3), and display minor differences in language processing (4, 5). The present study investigates the mechanisms that bilingual infants might employ to deal efficiently with a linguistic signal coming from 2 languages. Previous studies have shown that infants process various aspects of the languages they are exposed to from very early on. Indeed, neonates can discriminate utterances from 2 languages of different rhythmic classes (68). Two- to four-month-olds learn to distinguish languages belonging to the same rhythmic class (4, 9). Later on, in the second half of their first year, infants show exposure-dependent changes in phonetic discrimination (10, 11). These studies suggest that well before infants start speaking they have already acquired crucial properties of their maternal language.maternal language....
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