Does Bilingualism Contribute to Memory Capacity?

Photo courtesy of Photo Pin.

Photo courtesy of Photo Pin.


Nowadays, more people and children tend to speak two or more languages. People travel more, explore different cultures and countries, work overseas, and establish multicultural families more often. As a result, more children are exposed to different languages from an early age by their parents, family, and caregivers. For many years, bilingualism did not have a lot of support from educators and psychologists, especially on children who seem to have either a developmental delay or deficit. Over the past few decades, therapists and educators did not have a clear and consistent opinion about the benefits of bilingualism; they seem to be opaque about how parents and teachers should perform in the usage of two or more languages. However, the research has been increased and it provides a better, deeper scientific insight of bilingualism and its benefits. 

What is Bilingualism?

Bilingualism is described as the ability to talk, write, speak fluently, and understand two different languages. Researchers claim that there are two types of bilinguals; those who are exposed to different languages from earlier in their life (i.e. infancy, preschool years) and those who are taught a second language later in life. Most psycholinguists and scientists claim that language acquisition and development, along with cognitive development can also be beneficial through a second (or maybe a third) language. According to Bajo et al., (2016) early bilinguals can benefit with respect to executive functions. With respect to executive functions, we can identify the child’s performance in making decisions, shifting between tasks, inhibitory control, and working memory. The executive functions are also controlled by different areas of the brain and in some cases, each function may overlap with the other. For example, as caregivers or educators, it is possible to notice that children tend to shift into different tasks quite easily as long as they are distracted from different stimuli (while reading a book they may ask to dance or go to the garden). However, this conceptual shifting is normal to children of all ages. What it is more interesting in bilingual children is the memory capacity they acquire.

Exposure to Multiple Languages

As noted above, a lot of children are exposed to different languages early in life. The environment they are raised in may be bilingual, and in some cases multilingual; for instance, parents might be native speakers of different languages and use each of them to communicate with their kids. In addition to this, it is important to remind ourselves of the importance of caregivers’ language input. Some caregivers may be native speakers of a language that is not spoken in their nanny family’s home, however, they may use English to communicate with the kids.   

Significance of Working Memory

Apart from the ultimate components of the advantages in bilingualism, it is important to highlight the significance in working memory. Working memory is the ability to storage any relevant information. In fact, working memory seems to be correlated with attentional control, language, problem solving, and reasoning (Fougnie et al., 2014).  A recent study was conducted from Blom et al. (2014) in which they studied Turkish-Dutch bilingual children; it claimed that bilingual children have been “taught” to distinguish from any irrelevant and incongruent information provided. This gives bilingual children the ability to coherently process the relevant information in the language heard and spoken. 

Children who are early bilinguals, as mentioned above, whom are exposed to more than one language from birth, tend to have an extended memory storage. Studies have shown that in memory tasks, bilingual children at the age of five, tend to remember better details and answer more confidently than their monolingual peers. It seems that bilingual kids have the “innate” advantage of memory.

Even though monolingual and bilingual children differ fundamentally, this does not mean that a monolingual’s memorization ability should be underestimated. Both monolingual and bilingual children’s memorization abilities differ due to the input they are exposed to. All children are able to perform their best in tasks, and it is up to educators, parents, and caregivers to provide the best input in order for children to achieve it.