Skip to main content Accessibility help

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
Hide All

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.

Hide All
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.
Abbate, M. S., & LaChapelle, N. B. (1984b). Pictures, please! An articulation supplement. Tucson, AZ: Communication Skill Builders, Inc.
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.
Bak, T. H., Nissan, J. J., Allerhand, M. M., & Deary, I. J. (2014). Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging?. Annals of Neurology.
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.
Bates, E., McNew, S., MacWhinney, B., Devescovi, A., & Smith, S. (1982). Functional constraints on sentence processing: A cross-linguistic study. Cognition, 11 (3), 245299.
Bialystok, E. (1982). On the relationship between knowing and using linguistic forms1. Applied Linguistics, 3 (3), 181206.
Bialystok, E. (1988). Levels of bilingualism and levels of linguistic awareness. Developmental Psychology, 24 (4), 560567.
Bialystok, E. (1999). Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind. Child Development, 70 (3), 636644.
Bialystok, E. (2005). Consequences of bilingualism for cognitive development. Handbook of bilingualism, 417432.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Freedman, M. (2007). Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia, 45 (2), 459464.
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.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., Green, D. W., & Gollan, T. H. (2009). Bilingual minds. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10 (3), 89129.
Bialystok, E., & Luk, G. (2012). Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual adults. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15 (02), 397401.
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.
Bialystok, E., & Feng, X. (2011). Language proficiency and its implications for monolingual and bilingual children. Language and literacy development in bilingual settings, 121138.
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.
Blumenfeld, H. K., & Marian, V. (2011). Bilingualism influences inhibitory control in auditory comprehension. Cognition, 118 (2), 245257.
Boersma, P., & Weenink, D. (2010). Praat: doing phonetics by computer [Computer program]. Version 5.1.38, retrieved 2 July 2010 from
Carlson, S. M., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental science, 11 (2), 282298.
Cook, R. D. (1977). Detection of influential observation in linear regression. Technometrics, 1518.
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.
Costa, A., Hernández, M., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2008). Bilingualism aids conflict resolution: Evidence from the ANT task. Cognition, 106 (1), 5986.
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.
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.
de Haan, M. (2013). Attention and executive control. In Mareschal, D., Butterworth, B., & Tolmie, A. (Eds.). (2013). Educational Neuroscience. John Wiley & Sons
Diamond, A. (2001). Looking closely at infants’ performance and experimental procedures in the A-not-B task. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24 (1), 3841.
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.
Driver, J. (2001). A selective review of selective attention research from the past century. British Journal of Psychology, 92 (1), 5378.
Dunn, L. M., Dunn, L. M., Whetton, C., & Burley, J. (1997). British picture vocabulary scale Windsor. UK: NFER-Nelson.
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.
Filippi, R., Karaminis, T., & Thomas, M. S. Language switching in bilingual production: Empirical data and computational modelling. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 122.
Filippi, R., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2012). 8 What can neurodevelopmental disorders teach us about typical development?. Current Issues in Developmental Disorders, 193.
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.
Finkbeiner, M., Gollan, T., & Caramazza, A. (2006). Bilingual lexical access: what is the (hard) problem. Biling.(Camb. Engl.), 9, 153166.
Forster, S., & Lavie, N. (2008). Failures to ignore entirely irrelevant distractors: The role of load. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14 (1), 73.
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.
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.
Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexicosemantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781.
Hoshino, N., & Thierry, G. (2011). Language selection in bilingual word production: electrophysiological evidence for cross-language competition. Brain research, 1371, 100109.
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.
Kovács, Á. M., & Mehler, J. (2009). Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (16), 65566560.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Marian, V., & Spivey, M. (2003). Competing activation in bilingual language processing: Within-and between-language competition. Bilingualism Language and Cognition, 6 (2), 97115.
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.
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.
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.
Peal, E., & Lambert, W. E. (1962). The relation of bilingualism to intelligence. Psychological Monographs: general and applied, 76 (27), 123.
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.
Prior, A., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). A bilingual advantage in task switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13 (2), 253262.
Raven, J. C., Court, J. H. & Raven, J.(1986) Raven's Progressive Matrices and Raven's Coloured Matrices. London: HK Lewis.
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.
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.
Roland, D., Dick, F., & Elman, J. L. (2007). Frequency of basic English grammatical structures: A corpus analysis. Journal of Memory and Language, 57, 348379.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wechsler, D. (2008). WAIS-IV Manual. New York: The Psychological Corporation.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed