Media Briefings

BENEFITS OF BEING BILINGUAL: Immigrant kids with two languages perform better in maths and reading by age seven

  • Published Date: April 2017

Bilingual children outperform their monolingual peers in mathematics and writing by the time they reach seven, according to a University of Sydney study, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Bristol in April 2017.

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s School of Economics have analysed data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), which focuses on the early cognitive development of young children of immigrant parents in the UK.

The MCS began in 2001 with an initial sample of 19,000 infants and tracked children’s development until they reached 11.

‘Bilingual children between three and five years of age lag behind children who speak only one language, but they catch up – and outperform their peers – by the time they are seven years old’, says the research’s co-author, Dr Anita Staneva.

The findings suggest that parenting style influenced the bilingual children’s educational achievement. Parents of bilingual children start investing heavily in home activities to enhance their children’s learning in an attempt to compensate for what is – at first – a disadvantage of bilingualism.

By the age of seven, the frequency at which a child is helped with maths and writing is significantly higher for foreign language-speaking parents when compared with their monolingual peers, the research shows.

‘It may well be that immigrant families, who came all the way to the UK, emphasise education and place more value on learning at home so that their children would have better future’, says Dr Staneva.

The research suggests that governments should encourage parents to speak their native language at home and implement policies encouraging teaching second-language at primary school.

Key findings – at glance

• Bilingual children ‘lag behind’ monolingual peers between the ages of three and five

• By age seven, bilingual children outperform their monolingual peers on the British Ability Scale, which assesses word reading, pattern construction and maths

• By age seven, the frequency at which a child is helped with maths and writing is significantly higher for foreign language-speaking parents.

ENDS


Early Cognitive Development and Educational Assimilation of Migrant Children
Colm Harmon, Anita Staneva and Deborah Cobb-Clark
School of Economics, University of Sydney, Australia

Contact:
Dr Anita Staneva
anita.staneva@sydney.edu.au
Prof Colm Harmon
colm.harmon@sydney.edu.au