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Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2009

York University
Address for correspondence: Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3,


The present paper summarizes research showing that bilingualism affects linguistic and cognitive performance across the lifespan. The effect on linguistic performance is generally seen as a deficit in which bilingual children control a smaller vocabulary than their monolingual peers and bilingual adults perform more poorly on rapid lexical retrieval tasks. The effect on cognitive performance is to enhance executive functioning and to protect against the decline of executive control in aging. These effects interact to produce a complex pattern regarding the effect of bilingualism on memory performance. Memory tasks based primarily on verbal recall are performed more poorly by bilinguals but memory tasks based primarily on executive control are performed better by bilinguals. Speculations regarding the mechanism responsible for these effects are described.

International Symposium on Bilingualism Lecture
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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The research reported in this chapter was funded by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). The paper is based on a plenary address given at the International Symposium on Bilingualism, University of Hamburg, 30 May – 2 June 2007.


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