Marie-Eve Joret (Vrije Universiteit Brussel/ Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek), Filip Germeys (KU Leuven), & Piet Van de Craen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Bilingualism- executive functions- immersion education- Simon Task
Some studies have shown that ‘full’ bilingualism might enhance the executive functions in children, young adults and elderly people. The present study aimed at investigating whether similar effects could be found in children learning their second language at school in immersion education programs. Moreover, since one study suggested that the duration of immersion training might be an important element in the emergence of this ‘bilingual advantage’ in immersion learners, children with sufficient immersion training were tested in this present study.
44 children involved in immersion education for 4 to 5 years were compared to 48 children in traditional schools. All children were between 9 and 11 years old. To assess executive functions, the Simon Task was used, a neuropsychological measure assessing executive functions with reaction times and accuracy on congruent and incongruent trials. To control for background measures, all children underwent the Raven’s Coloured Progressive Matrices, to measure non-verbal intelligence and the Echelle de Vocabulaire en Images Peabody (EVIP), assessing verbal intelligence. In addition, a questionnaire was given to the parents to control for other confounding variables, such as socio-economic status (SES), home language, developmental disorders, etc.
There were no significant differences between groups concerning non-verbal intelligence and verbal intelligence. Furthermore, the immersion learners showed overall faster reaction times on both congruent and incongruent trials compared to the traditional learners, but only after 5 years of training, not before.
These results suggest that the advantage found in ‘full’ bilinguals might also appear in children involved in immersion education, but only after a sufficient exposure to the second language. However, future longitudinal or semi-experimental studies will need to confirm this.
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