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How does linguistic competence enhance cognitive functions in children? A study in multilingual children with different linguistic competences*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2012

Faculty of Education and Language Study Unit, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy
Faculty of Psychology, University Vita Salute San Raffaele, Milano, Italy
Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany
Faculty of Education and Language Study Unit, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy
Faculty of Psychology, University Vita Salute San Raffaele, Milano, Italy & Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Address for correspondence: Jubin Abutalebi, Faculty of Psychology, University Vita Salute San Raffaele, Via Olgettina 58, 20132 Milan,


The aim of the present study was to investigate the attentional mechanisms of multilingual children with differential degrees of language competence. For this purpose, 118 children (61 female/57 male; mean age 10.9 years (SD = 0.29); early acquisition multilinguals) from the Ladin valleys in South Tyrol, Italy, performed the Attentional Network Test (ANT). Our results proved that proficiency levels in early multilingual children may play a crucial role in the development and enhancement of the alerting component of the attentional system. Interestingly enough, we were able to deduce that linguistic competence rather than competence in other skill domains may have a decisive role in the alerting component. We suggest that the peculiarity of highly competent multilinguals relies on their ability to better detect, and consequently react faster to, the target stimulus than their less competent multilingual peers.

Research Notes
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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The research reported in this paper was funded by the Central Research Committee of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano. We would like to thank the children who participated in this study and the school staff involved for their valuable collaboration. We also are grateful to Mrs. Sheila Sernoff for her much appreciated help and two anonymous reviewers for the valuable suggestions.


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