Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-t4qhp Total loading time: 0.577 Render date: 2022-08-17T00:49:37.165Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Bilingual children show an advantage in controlling verbal interference during spoken language comprehension*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2014

Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge Birkbeck, University of London
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge Birkbeck, University of London
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck, University of London
Northwestern University, Chicago
Address for correspondence: Roberto Filippi, Anglia Ruskin University, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science & Technology, East Road, Cambridge CB1


Studies measuring inhibitory control in the visual modality have shown a bilingual advantage in both children and adults. However, there is a lack of developmental research on inhibitory control in the auditory modality. This study compared the comprehension of active and passive English sentences in 7–10 years old bilingual and monolingual children. The task was to identify the agent of a sentence in the presence of verbal interference. The target sentence was cued by the gender of the speaker. Children were instructed to focus on the sentence in the target voice and ignore the distractor sentence. Results indicate that bilinguals are more accurate than monolinguals in comprehending syntactically complex sentences in the presence of linguistic noise. This supports previous findings with adult participants (Filippi, Leech, Thomas, Green & Dick, 2012). We therefore conclude that the bilingual advantage in interference control begins early in life and is maintained throughout development.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This study was funded by a private investor based in London, who asked to remain anonymous; we appreciate his generosity. We also thank Mrs. Birch, Headteacher of the Histon & Impington Junior School, her staff, the children and the parents who enthusiastically helped us to carry out this research. Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by grant NICHD-RO1HD059858 to the last author.


Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2008). Control mechanisms in bilingual language production: Neural evidence from language switching studies. Language and cognitive processes, 23 (4), 557582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Abbate, M. S., & LaChapelle, N. B. (1984b). Pictures, please! An articulation supplement. Tucson, AZ: Communication Skill Builders, Inc.Google Scholar
Annaz, D., Karmiloff-Smith, A., & Thomas, M. S. C. (2008). The importance of tracing developmental trajectories for clinical child neuropsychology. In Reed, J. & Warner Rogers, J. (Eds.), Child neuropsychology: Concepts, theory and practice. Oxford, England: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Bak, T. H., Nissan, J. J., Allerhand, M. M., & Deary, I. J. (2014). Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging?. Annals of Neurology.Google Scholar
Bak, T. H., Vega-Mendoza, M., & Sorace, A. (2014). Never too late? An advantage on tests of auditory attention extends to late bilinguals. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 485.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bates, E., McNew, S., MacWhinney, B., Devescovi, A., & Smith, S. (1982). Functional constraints on sentence processing: A cross-linguistic study. Cognition, 11 (3), 245299.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E. (1982). On the relationship between knowing and using linguistic forms1. Applied Linguistics, 3 (3), 181206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E. (1988). Levels of bilingualism and levels of linguistic awareness. Developmental Psychology, 24 (4), 560567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E. (1999). Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind. Child Development, 70 (3), 636644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E. (2005). Consequences of bilingualism for cognitive development. Handbook of bilingualism, 417432.Google Scholar
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Freedman, M. (2007). Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia, 45 (2), 459464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and aging, 19, 290303.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., Green, D. W., & Gollan, T. H. (2009). Bilingual minds. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10 (3), 89129.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E., & Luk, G. (2012). Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual adults. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15 (02), 397401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E., Luk, G., Peets, K. F., & Yang, S. (2010). Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13 (04), 525531.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E., & Feng, X. (2011). Language proficiency and its implications for monolingual and bilingual children. Language and literacy development in bilingual settings, 121138.Google Scholar
Bilger, R. C., Nuetzel, J. M., Rabinowitz, W. M., & Rzeczkowski, C. (1984). Standardization of a test of speech perception in noise. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 27 (1), 32.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Blumenfeld, H. K., & Marian, V. (2011). Bilingualism influences inhibitory control in auditory comprehension. Cognition, 118 (2), 245257.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Boersma, P., & Weenink, D. (2010). Praat: doing phonetics by computer [Computer program]. Version 5.1.38, retrieved 2 July 2010 from Google Scholar
Carlson, S. M., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental science, 11 (2), 282298.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cook, R. D. (1977). Detection of influential observation in linear regression. Technometrics, 1518.Google Scholar
Costa, A., & Caramazza, A. (1999). Is lexical selection in bilingual speech production language-specific? Further evidence from Spanish–English and English–Spanish bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 2 (03), 231244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Costa, A., Hernández, M., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2008). Bilingualism aids conflict resolution: Evidence from the ANT task. Cognition, 106 (1), 5986.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Craik, F. I., Bialystok, E., & Freedman, M. (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. Neurology, 75 (19), 17261729.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Crinion, J., Turner, R., Grogan, A., Hanakawa, T., Noppeney, U., Devlin, J. T., . . . & Price, C. J. (2006). Language control in the bilingual brain. Science, 312 (5779), 15371540.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
de Haan, M. (2013). Attention and executive control. In Mareschal, D., Butterworth, B., & Tolmie, A. (Eds.). (2013). Educational Neuroscience. John Wiley & Sons Google Scholar
Diamond, A. (2001). Looking closely at infants’ performance and experimental procedures in the A-not-B task. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24 (1), 3841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dijkstra, T., Van Jaarsveld, H., & Brinke, S. T. (1998). Interlingual homograph recognition: Effects of task demands and language intermixing. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1 (01), 5166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Driver, J. (2001). A selective review of selective attention research from the past century. British Journal of Psychology, 92 (1), 5378.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dunn, L. M., Dunn, L. M., Whetton, C., & Burley, J. (1997). British picture vocabulary scale Windsor. UK: NFER-Nelson.Google Scholar
Filippi, R., Leech, R., Thomas, M. S., Green, D. W., & Dick, F. (2012). A bilingual advantage in controlling language interference during sentence comprehension. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15, 858872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Filippi, R., Karaminis, T., & Thomas, M. S. Language switching in bilingual production: Empirical data and computational modelling. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 122.Google Scholar
Filippi, R., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2012). 8 What can neurodevelopmental disorders teach us about typical development?. Current Issues in Developmental Disorders, 193.Google Scholar
Filippi, R., Richardson, F. M., Dick, F., Leech, R., Green, D. W., Thomas, M. S., & Price, C. J. (2011). The right posterior paravermis and the control of language interference. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31, 1073210740.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Finkbeiner, M., Gollan, T., & Caramazza, A. (2006). Bilingual lexical access: what is the (hard) problem. Biling.(Camb. Engl.), 9, 153166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Forster, S., & Lavie, N. (2008). Failures to ignore entirely irrelevant distractors: The role of load. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14 (1), 73.Google ScholarPubMed
Gollan, T. H., Montoya, R. I., Fennema-Notestine, C. & Morris, S. K. (2005). Bilingualism affects picture naming but not picture classification. Memory & Cognition, 33, 12201234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Green, D. W. (1986). Control, activation, and resource: A framework and a model for the control of speech in bilinguals. Brain and Language, 27, 210223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexicosemantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hoshino, N., & Thierry, G. (2011). Language selection in bilingual word production: electrophysiological evidence for cross-language competition. Brain research, 1371, 100109.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kalikow, D. N., Stevens, K. N., & Elliott, L. L. (1977). Development of a test of speech intelligibility in noise using sentence materials with controlled word predictability. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 61 (5), 13371351.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kovács, Á. M., & Mehler, J. (2009). Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (16), 65566560.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Krizman, J., Marian, V., Shook, A., Skoe, E., & Kraus, N. (2012). Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109 (20), 78777881.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Leech, R., Aydelott, J., Symons, G., Carnevale, J., & Dick, F. (2007). The development of sentence interpretation: effects of perceptual, attentional and semantic interference. Developmental science, 10, 794813.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lin, F. R., Metter, E., O’Brien, R. J., Resnick, S. M., Zonderman, A. B., Ferrucci, L. (2011) Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Arch Neurol, 68 (2), 214220.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Linck, J. A., Kroll, J. F., & Sunderman, G. (2009). Losing access to the native language while immersed in a second language: Evidence for the role of inhibition in second-language learning. Psychological Science, 20 (12), 15071515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Macizo, P., Bajo, T., & Cruz Martín, M. (2010). Inhibitory processes in bilingual language comprehension: Evidence from Spanish–English interlexical homographs. Journal of Memory and Language, 63 (2), 232244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marian, V., & Spivey, M. (2003). Competing activation in bilingual language processing: Within-and between-language competition. Bilingualism Language and Cognition, 6 (2), 97115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Martin-Rhee, M. M., & Bialystok, E. (2008). The development of two types of inhibitory control in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11 (1), 81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mayo, L. H., Florentine, M., & Buus, S. (1997). Age of second language acquisition and perception of speech in noise. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 40, 686693.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive psychology, 41 (1), 49100.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Peal, E., & Lambert, W. E. (1962). The relation of bilingualism to intelligence. Psychological Monographs: general and applied, 76 (27), 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Philipp, A. M., & Koch, I. (2009). Inhibition in language switching: what is inhibited when switching between languages in naming tasks?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35 (5), 1187.Google ScholarPubMed
Prior, A., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). A bilingual advantage in task switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13 (2), 253262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Raven, J. C., Court, J. H. & Raven, J.(1986) Raven's Progressive Matrices and Raven's Coloured Matrices. London: HK Lewis.Google Scholar
Roberts, P. M., Garcia, L. J., Desrochers, A., Hemandez, D. (2002). English performance of proficient bilingual adults on the Boston Naming Test. Aphasiology, 16, 635645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rogers, C. L., Lister, J. J., Febo, D. M., Besing, J. L., & Abrams, H. B. (2006). Effect of bilingualism, noise, and reverberation on speech perception by listeners with normal hearing. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 465485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roland, D., Dick, F., & Elman, J. L. (2007). Frequency of basic English grammatical structures: A corpus analysis. Journal of Memory and Language, 57, 348379.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Shi, L. F. (2010). Perception of acoustically degraded Sentences in bilingual listeners who differ in age of English acquisition. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 53, 821835.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of experimental psychology: Human learning and memory, 6 (2), 174.Google ScholarPubMed
Soveri, A., Laine, M., Hämäläinen, H., & Hugdah, K. (2011). Bilingual advantage in attentional control: Evidence from the forced-attention dichotic listening paradigm. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 371378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tabri, D., Chacra, K. M. S. A., & Pring, T. (2011). Speech perception in noise by monolingual, bilingual, and trilingual listeners. International Journal of Language Communication Disorders, 46, 411422.Google ScholarPubMed
Van Hell, J. G., & Dijkstra, T. (2002). Foreign language knowledge can influence native language performance in exclusively native contexts. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9 (4), 780789.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Von Studnitz, R. E., & Green, D. W. (2002). Interlingual homograph interference in German–English bilinguals: Its modulation and locus of control. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 5 (01), 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wechsler, D. (2008). WAIS-IV Manual. New York: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Bilingual children show an advantage in controlling verbal interference during spoken language comprehension*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Bilingual children show an advantage in controlling verbal interference during spoken language comprehension*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Bilingual children show an advantage in controlling verbal interference during spoken language comprehension*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *