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Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children


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    Two additional tasks were administered but later excluded from analyses due to a ceiling effect (Moving Word) and a floor effect (Conservation of Mass).

Address for correspondence: Stephanie M. Carlson, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0345, USA, e-mail:


Advanced inhibitory control skills have been found in bilingual speakers as compared to monolingual controls (Bialystok, 1999). We examined whether this effect is generalized to an unstudied language group (Spanish-English bilingual) and multiple measures of executive function by administering a battery of tasks to 50 kindergarten children drawn from three language groups: native bilinguals, monolinguals (English), and English speakers enrolled in second-language immersion kindergarten. Despite having significantly lower verbal scores and parent education/income level, Spanish-English bilingual children's raw scores did not differ from their peers. After statistically controlling for these factors and age, native bilingual children performed significantly better on the executive function battery than both other groups. Importantly, the relative advantage was significant for tasks that appear to call for managing conflicting attentional demands (Conflict tasks); there was no advantage on impulse-control (Delay tasks). These results advance our understanding of both the generalizability and specificity of the compensatory effects of bilingual experience for children's cognitive development.