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The effect of bilingualism on cognition

The question was: does bilingualism enhance or weaken our cognition?

Before the 1960s:
Before this time, it has been long believed that bilingualism had a
detrimental and negative effect on cognition (cognition meaning intelligence,

This negative outlook has been demonstrated in Appel and Muysken who
said that: becoming a bilingual having two strings to ones bow, or two
linguistic systems within ones brain naturally divides a persons cognitive
resources and reduces his efficiency of thought.: this means that, having
two skills to deal with (two languages) divides a persons cognitive abilities
such as creativity, intelligence... into half because he speaks two languages.

As we can see, before 1960, scholars believed and even claimed that
bilinguals are behind in school, retarded in intelligence, and have social

The question that is raised here, why did linguists before 1960s find that
bilingualism had a negative effect?

The answer is that:

(1)their methods of research were not correct (in more technical terms,
they did not adopt a methodologically sound research= a correct
method of research). And when a scholar does not adopt the
appropriate method of research, their results will not reflect reality.
A methodologically sound research, the ability to control all the
variables such as gender, age, socioeconomic class, and those
bilinguals that are being tested in the research must be equated in
the degree of fluency/ mastery of language, the same intelligence...
(2)They did not take into consideration the types of bilinguals:
subtractive bilingualism (the one that has a negative effect because
of the social pressure); additive bilingualism (the one that has a
positive effect because there is no social pressure). P.S: social
pressure: if there is a pressure from both sides or one side of the
two cultures that asks the bilingualism to drop one aspect of his
identity (either parents, or peers), then there will be social pressure.
Social pressure would contribute into having subtractive
bilingualism) and this social pressure aspect was not taken into
consideration by scholars before 1960s that is why most of their
results did not reflect reality and showed the negative effect of
bilingualism on cognition.

After 1960s, there were more positive views about bilingualism and its
effect on cognition
why? Because these scholars adopted a methodologically sound research
that would reflect reality (they controlled variables) and they have taken into
consideration the types of bilingualism.

1. The first example to illustrate this: Lambert and Peal (1962):

They did a comparison between monolinguals and bilinguals to
see if there is a positive or negative effect of bilingualism on
cognition. The test was on French and English Bilinguals in the
Montreal. The result was that bilinguals scored significantly
higher than the carefully matched monolinguals in terms of the
structure of intelligence (more diversified intelligence) and
flexibility of thought.

2. After this, more positive outlook on bilingualism emerged in

different parts of the world like Switzerland, Singapore, South
Africa, and others.

3. The second example is a study done by Scott (1973). She studied

French and English bilinguals in Montreal (young children). There
were two groups (monolinguals and bilinguals). Bilinguals were
given the opportunity to become bilinguals within 7 years in time
whilst those monolinguals did not have the chance. Those two
groups were equated in measures of level of intelligence,
socioeconomic background, parental attitudes (as we have said
social pressure plays a big role in making bilingualism have a
negative effect) (All of this are done as to reach a
methodologically sound research). The results: She found out
that bilingual children had higher scores than any monolinguals
in terms of divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility. (P.S:
Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to
generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.)