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Development Psychology


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This essay will confirm this theory by analysing bilingual’s cognitive affect in memory, task switching and attention and demonstrate how these aspects relate to having a better academic performance. Numerous studies were found measuring and comparing memory, task switching and attention of bilingual and monolingual children. Result have indicate that bilingual consist of many cognitive advantage that outperformed monolinguals in cognitive task, however bilingual experience more difficulty when approaching in verbal and vocabulary task. Overall Studies showed evidence of cognitive advantage in bilingual children that may result in a better academic performance. Bilingual Children and Academic Performance Education is a form of learning and acquiring the knowledge and skills that are transferred from one generation to the next.
(Lee, 2009) Academic performance in a student educational journey is one of the most significant aspects in regards to a child’s academic outcome. In many cases it is often promoted that being bilingual is a contributing factor to enhancing a child’s academic performance. In Australia, statistics show that there are around 22 million Australians speaking in approximately 400 different languages or were either bilingual (Australian Bureau Statistics, 2009). As statistics highlight the fact that there is an increasing rate of people who communicate in more than one language, researches are shifting towards the need for support and understanding of bilingualism students in regards to their academic performance. Thus, this essay will critique how a being bilingual can affect positively in a child’s cognitive process such as memory, task-switching and attention and how these aspects may all lead to a better academic achievement Being bilingual has been linked to a number of cognitive benefits. One such benefit that studies have repeatedly shown in bilingual children is that they typically have better working memory then monolinguals. A recent study by Julia Morales “Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children” (Morales, 2009) pointed out that bilingual children performed better on spatial working memory tasks than monolinguals. The study compared the activity response of bilingual and monolingual children on task demanding different levels of working memory. Children performed a Simon-type task that compared conditions based on two rules and four rules task. The result showed that bilingual children responded more accurately than monolinguals on both two rules and four rules conditions; In addition they were also faster in responding to incongruent trials. In regards to this finding, activity that require children to hold in mind two or more items involve extra working memory to solve the task. (Peter, 2009) Since result showed that bilingual children were able to respond more accurately and faster than monolinguals during the increase in memory task proposes evidence of enhancement of cognitive processing in memory. Research by Julia Morales indicated that working memory play a vital role in wide range of education activities, such as mental calculation, or reading comprehension. (Morales, 2009) These are important cognitive processes aspect involved in learning which consecutively relates to academic performance. Academic performance will decrease if information cannot be retained long enough to be process properly, therefore incorrect conclusions will result. (Manuscript, 2009) Thus bilingual having a great advantage of working memory will enhance their academic performance. Studies of bilingual children’s memory has presented important insights in regards to having a better academic performance however past studies have contradicted this. Early studies have examined the working memory ability of monolingual and bilingual children but failed to find evidence for cognitive advantages. An example can be seen in Bialystok and Feng research. (Bialystok and Feng 2001) Bilingual and monolingual children were presented with several activities, all of which involved words and verbal task. In this case, bilingual children experience more difficulty than monolinguals in verbal processing. Bilingual children also acquired lower scores than monolinguals on tests of receptive and productive vocabulary. In contrast studies by Julia Morales involved tasks that were visual, reducing the likelihood of a jumble with linguistic processing.
This indicates that there is difference in vocabulary that may have effect bilingual children from performing their best outcomes. Thus, a reason that may contribute in the failure of finding bilingual advantages may be found in the differences in activities type used in the current studies and those used in previous research. Given this research one might propose that being bilingual may cause enhancement of working memory which in turn gives an advantage for bilinguals to increase their academic performance. However verbal and vocabulary task may cause a handicap to bilinguals. As well as exploring bilingual memory in correlation to academic performance, the cognitive ability to switch task quickly is also a major factor that may increase bilingual children academic performance. Studies by the National Institutes of Health (Department of Health & Human Services, 2012), examined the ability to switch task in bilingual and monolingual. Bilingual and monolingual children were advised to press a variety of buttons when viewing a series of images of animal’s or colours. Results showed that bilingual children were quicker at making change when asked to switch from animals to a colour. Researcher’s often associated switching task with a set of mental processes known as executive functioning—“Ability to pay attention, plan, organize, and strategize,” (Society for Neuroscience, 2013) thus having better executive functioning cause improvement of aspect that may increase the likelihood of better academic achievement. Early studies also showed profound evidence of better task-switch by bilingual children. Research by MacWhinney (MacWhinney 1997) used a PsyScope software in order to record behavioral responses of varies stimuli task. Bilingual children were faster than monolingual at switching from one task to another. However, more recent studies by Brian Turner (Peter, 2005) used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain activity of bilingual with monolingual as they completed a task that tested their cognitive switching task ability. Result showed that both groups performed the task accurately, though bilingual children were faster at completing the task than their monolingual. Result also illustrated bilingual used less energy in the frontal cortex of the brain where task switching is involved even though they had quicker responses. Contributing to the above studies, all result showed evidence that bilingual has faster switching task abilities. Despite the different method of research, all studies provided similar outcomes of a neural functioning in bilingual versus monolingual individuals. As a result this shows clear evidence that task switching is an advantage to bilingual children. The ability to switch task quickly helps a bilingual children to better process information, thus having a clearer signal for learning. (Marian, 2012) Since Bilinguals have two sets of language rules in mind, their brains are always active and competing. (Marian, 2012) This constant practice strengthens the control mechanisms and changes the associated brain regions. Thus bilingual having advantage ability of switching task may help further strengthen the theory that bilingual children have better advantages in academic performance. Research on attention in bilingual children has presented important insights on bilingual advantages in their cognitive process. “Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things” (Bilingual effects on academic achievement, 2011). Without the ability to attend to stimuli, there would be no learning thus a child’s academic achievement cannot exist. According to the book “Childhood Bilingualism” by Peter Homel (Peter 2005) children that are bilingual use their executive function in a way that advances their attention development. In regards to this bilingual children constantly use their executive functions to switch between languages, thus they’re constantly exercising the brain function. As a result this impacts positively on their attention and causes their executive function to be more advance. Evidence in this can be seen in Bialystok’s and Martin-Rhee study on bilingual attention verse monolingual. (Bialystok & Martin-Rhee, 2006) The study showed how bilingual children were faster than monolingual children at sorting objects into bins by shape despite conflicting colors. Since bilingual are has more advantages in their attention function, bilingual children were able to ignore distractions. Having better attention allows the bilingual child to gain skills in ignore unnecessary noise or distraction in class. Thus, this factor can contribute positively in helping bilingual achieve a higher academic performance as it allows them to focus more on their work. In a different study approach conducted by Wendy Leopold, (Leopold, 2012) auditory neuroscience was used to investigate how being bilingual affect the brain attention. The researchers recorded the brainstem responses to complex sounds in bilingual and monolingual children. It was demonstrated that under quiet and un-distracting condition both bilingual and monolingual performed the same outcome, however when there was background noise and distraction the bilingual brains were significantly better at encoding sounds and grouping of auditory objects. As a result this shows evidence of enhancement in auditory attention for bilingual’s children. The research has suggested that the bilingual attention system has becomes highly efficient in paying greater attention to relevant versus irrelevant sounds. In relation to the above findings our attention is vital for learning and communicating. People need to pay attention if they want something to enter their mind. Without the ability to attend to stimuli, there would be no learning (Manuscript, 2009) thus in order to get anything out of the learning it is crucial to be an active listener and pay attention closely. Since studies have provided evidence that being bilingual has advantage in auditory attention and selective attention, may lead to better academic performance for bilingual children as they can concentrate more. As it can be seen from ongoing research, bilingual children display a great advantage in cognitive processing such as memory, task switching and attention. Studies by Julia Morales have displayed clear evidence on memory benefits in bilingual children. Since memory is a vital aspect in learning and educational activity, academic level will be enhance in bilingual children due to their higher memory advantage. Although study by Julia Morales indicates great cognitive advantage in bilingual children, early studies by Bialystok and Feng have failed to find evidence for cognitive advantages. However it was conclude that the differences in the vocabulary task used in previous studies present a handicap to bilingual children and thus caused a contributing factor to failure of finding bilingual advantages. As a result bilingual children displayed a higher memory benefit then monolingual however verbal and vocabulary task can affect their outcomes. As well as exploring bilingual memory, the cognitive ability to switch task quickly was also research in regards to bilingual children academic performance. Both studies by the National Institutes of Health and Brian Turner indicate a faster reaction to switch task in bilingual children than in monolingual. Thus there is clear evidence in bilingual advantage in task switching. The ability to switch task quickly helps a bilingual children to better process information, leading to a clearer signal for learning and as result may lead to better academic outcomes. Bilingual also show great advantage in selective attention. Studies conducted Martin-Rhee study on bilingual attention verse monolingual resulted in bilingual reacting faster than monolingual children at sorting objects into bins by shape despite conflicting colors. Bilingual children ignored distractions, because their executive control systems are more developed. Since learning demands children to engage in plenty of attention, having advantage on this will allow bilingual children to perform better in school, thus result in a better academic achievement. In summary of the above points, having advantage in cognitive processing such as memory, task switch and attention will increase the likelihood of performing well in school. Given that bilingual children are comprised with many of these cognitive advantages, it is likely that they will have a better academic performance then monolinguals.

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