Bilingual children are likely to be more empathetic, better communicators

Children who are exposed to other languages are more likely to interpret what other people really mean when they speak to them, a new study suggests.

Psychologists from the University of Chicago found that not only those who were fluent in another language but those that were merely "exposed" to one in early life showed better understanding of others.

The researchers, publishing their findings in Psychological Science, tested the theory by asking different sets of children - bilingual, exposed and monolingual - to move an object from an adult's eyeline.

In the test, there were three toy cars - a large, medium and small one - with the smallest being clearly hidden from the adult.

When the adult said to the child "I see a small car" and asked them to move it, 75 per cent of the bilingual or exposed groups moved the medium car - the smallest the adult could see - compared to just half of the monolingual group.

Early language exposure is essential to developing a formal language system, but may not be sufficient for communicating effectively.

To understand a speaker’s intention, one must take the speaker’s perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking.

  • University of Chicago researchers

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