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


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.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Roberto Filippi, Anglia Ruskin University, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science & Technology, East Road, Cambridge CB1 1PT
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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.

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