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Bilingual kids are better at recognising voices, finds study

Bilingual children perform better than monolingual children in recognising and processing voices speaking in different languages.

fitness Updated: Jun 13, 2017 11:25 IST
Children who can speak more than one language are more capable of recognising voices.
Children who can speak more than one language are more capable of recognising voices. (Shutterstock)

If you have a young child, it’s a good idea to ensure they learn multiple languages. A new study has found that kids who can speak and understand more than one language have better cognitive control and focus for the tasks which makes them better at recognising voices than their monolingual peers.

According to researchers, bilingual children may have more experience listening to accented speech (as the English was spoken with an accent) and multiple languages, or may have better social perception - an important tool for perceiving voices. Study’s author Susannah Levi from the New York University said that bilingual children have a perceptual advantage when processing information about a talker’s voice. This advantage exists in the social aspect of speech perception, where the focus is not on processing the linguistic information, but instead on processing information about who is talking.

Levi added that speech simultaneously carries information about what is being said and who is saying it. Researchers examined how children process information about who is talking and sought to understand whether differences existed between children speaking one language or multiple languages. The study included 41 children, a combination of 22 monolingual English speakers and 19 bilingual children, divided into two age groups: nine years and younger, and 10 years and older. The tasks revealed that older children performed better than younger children, confirming previous studies that perceiving information about who is talking improves with age.

Levi also found that bilingual children performed better than monolingual children in recognising and processing voices speaking in both English and German. When listening to English, bilingual children were better at discriminating and learning to identify voices. They were also faster at learning voices. When hearing German, bilingual children were better at discriminating voices.

Levi noted that the study was 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. The study has been published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

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