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Bilingual kids fall behind at school: study

The Local · 23 Mar 2011, 14:36

Published: 23 Mar 2011 10:49 GMT+01:00
Updated: 23 Mar 2011 14:36 GMT+01:00

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Researcher Reza Kormi-Nouri's study shows that bilingual children have a linguistic head start when they first go to school, but fall behind as they get older. The results of his study, published in the 'Bilingualism: Language and Cognition' journal, run counter to previous previous findings in the field.

"It's surprising because until now we believed it was the other way around: that bilingual children do worse in the first years of school but then catch up," said Kormi-Nouri.

Kormi-Nouri carried out two types of tests in Iran on bilingual and monolingual children aged between 7 and 12-years-old. All of the children were tested in Persian, the language used in school.

At home, the bilingual children spoke a different single language, either Turkish or Kurdish. However, the researcher said the outcome would likely have been the same for children brought up in homes where the parents spoke two different languages.

"I haven't examined that group for this study, but we can still talk about the same effects," he told The Local, basing his assumption on previous findings in the field.

In his study, the children were first given three minutes to come up with as many words as possible starting with a certain letter or relating to a particular category.

The younger bilingual children matched the single-language children in the letter test and scored higher in the category test. As they grew older, however, the bilingual children were overtaken, and Kormi-Nouri noted that the discrepancy widened with age.

The researcher said one possibility was that the languages created mutual disturbances as the proficiency levels balanced out.

"But there's also an alternative explanation that's directly opposed to this one: since the children in Iran do not receive any tuition in their home language, an imbalance develops instead between the languages," said Kormi Nouri.

"The older the children get, the stronger their school language becomes, while the home language becomes weaker and this has a negative effect on them."

One group formed an exception to the general trend, with Kormi-Nouri finding that children who received extra tuition in the language spoken at home continued to perform above average in tests even at a later age.

Kormi-Nouri said this was supported by previous studies he has carried out on children in Sweden who receive extra tuition at school in the language spoken outside the classroom.

"In Sweden, immigrants have maybe two to four hours a week of home language classes at school. They don't have that in Iran," he said.

Story continues below…

"Since the languages help each other, when you have the home language at school it provides a major boost."

The researcher stressed that the positive "cognitive effects" were also supplemented by the social and emotional benefits arising from the fact that the language spoken at home is respected by society at large.

For younger children, linguistic competence is tied to how words sound. Later, visual and semantic aspects increase in importance, meaning that children's proficiency in their home language suffers if they can only read or write in the language used at school.

Kormi-Nouri concluded that more research was needed that monitored children for longer periods of time, enabling academics to compare children who learn to read and write two languages with those who speak a single language.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:50 March 23, 2011 by ricenbeans
NO! It's not that bilingual children fall behind at school; the title should be "Children who are not taught in their native language fall behind in school!" Take my children (I don't have any yet, but when I do...) for example, they will speak both English and Swedish, both as native languages (English from me, Swedish from the missus). They can be educated in either English or Swedish and be unaffected by what this study says. If we moved to Turkey, and the children were exclusively educated in Turkish with no instruction in either of their two native languages, this is exactly where difficulty in school will begin. Did someone actually have to spend time and money to figure out that school is tougher when you don't speak the language? My unborn children could have told you that (not in turkish, though).
14:53 March 23, 2011 by WelshSwede
Wasn't it so long ago, that Bilingual Children had better advantages? I agree with above, yet I hope that my Children when taught will be taught Queen's English and not American English!
15:00 March 23, 2011 by glamshek
I was observing this thing from quite a time actually. In Pakistan, its bilingual language. Students are quite good but a lot needs be done.

Indians are also biligual at least.

However, its Japan who is leading for quite a long time with top class academics.
15:19 March 23, 2011 by hunnysnowbee
Strange, because where I come from, Wales, UK, kids who go to welsh speaking schools, seem to do better accademicaly than those who go to english speaking schools. Being bilingual certainly seems to have a good effect on welsh kids!
15:24 March 23, 2011 by Puffin
I wonder what effects language support and teaching types have - does the fact that this study was carried out in Iran have any effect?
16:02 March 23, 2011 by Nemesis
The exact opposite of every European country.

Probably more to do with Irans education system than anything else.
16:51 March 23, 2011 by calebian22
English is English. Get over yourself.
17:09 March 23, 2011 by Rishonim
WelshSwede, Any English is better than that stuff you guys speak in Wales. Even Jamaican patois could be considered music to the ears. But I am proud to see you bowed down and showing respect to your Queen English ;-)
19:54 March 23, 2011 by kevleb
This is one of the most idiotic studies I have seen in my life. I wonder which idiot qualified Reza Kormi-Nour to call himself a researcher. At the same time I am disappointed that THE LOCAL is publishing this baseless crap.
21:01 March 23, 2011 by burlison
The conclusions in this article are too vague to be meaningful. What areas of performance do the encapsulations "linguistic head start" and "lag behind later on" describe?

I'm raising a bilingual swedish/english speaker, and per a recent article in the New York Times, children speaking two languages generally have a larger sum total vocabulary but their vocabulary in each individual language may suffer.

The bigger question here is how do these students perform relative to students raised with the dominant language the classroom- swedish - the same as the dominant language at home.

I don't currently live in Sweden, but it would seem that Kurds or any other group where the academic language isn't their home language has a disadvantage, but it is 100% not the same scenario as being multi-lingual vs. mono-lingual (the terms I hear have currency these days).
04:40 March 24, 2011 by jackx123
total nonsense. my 3 kids are all bilingual (of who 2 are trilingual). top marks and well above the single lingual peers.

what has been proven to affect the learning ability is time spent with parents. iran is no reflection of european culture or education in any case so what's the point proven here
09:11 March 24, 2011 by sushi_and_sweden
Bilingual children in my country seem to have more chances to be successful at least in my image. They have a "special" door to enter good high-schools and universities without the extremely difficult entrance exam. They are also needed from many companies that have businesses with more foreign countries. Their communication skill is a charm and, probably the acquired sense of balance when talking diverse people are a skill. I have no idea about the school grades but the image is that they become having somehow good competence in society.
09:39 March 24, 2011 by Pont-y-garreg
"Kormi-Nouri concluded that more research was needed ..."

12:28 March 24, 2011 by Rick Methven
Being brought up bi-lingual - English and Welsh was what gave me an aptitude for languages and I now speak 7.

My son has been brought up bi-lingual Swedish/English and that never held him back at school.

It is generally accepted that bi-lingual kids have better mental agility than mono linguists
18:55 March 24, 2011 by wxgirl
Agree with jackx123, this article is total nonsense.
11:31 March 25, 2011 by clickety6
Hard to judge without seeing the research, but isn't it possible that if the parents of the child aren't fluent in the language used for teaching, then they won't be able to help the child with homework, etc, and this is why the child falls behind. So, the child may not do as well not due to the bilingualism of the child, but the monolingualism of the parents.
14:43 March 25, 2011 by helveeta
I have OFFICIALLY lost all respect for this site. How can anyone say this study applies anywhere else in the world besides Iran? Every country has different education standards. The U.S.'s is crap which is why I moved my son to Sweden. This should not be "news!"
23:37 March 25, 2011 by ccb
I find it hard to see how these results could have any sort of conclusive proof of bilinguism affecting students. When socio-economic situation of the students have not been taking into consideration. It is proven that students who are economically stressed perform worse than ones who aren't and these stresses become more prominent and evident as the child becomes older and understands the constructs and limitations of his life more. Not to mention growing pressures that may come from the great expectations of parents who may not have been afforded a certain level of education or who require him to work to assist with family finances. Plus many Kurds and Turks who move to the city in Iran are generally from poorer backgrounds than the standard monolingual Persian Iranian so I am sure that has a significant impact. Plus, saying that the ones who get extra tuition in their home language seem to perform better just proves the fact that the parents who can actually afford to send their offspring to extra lessons (which are not free in Iran) are clearly more well off and therefore there is probably a better home environment which promotes improved overall learning through all ages.
02:59 March 30, 2011 by dan_sparrow
send them back to their countries, so they dont have to learn 2 languages,period!
20:51 April 22, 2011 by Ricardo Richard
The author of the study is debunking all the achievements made by multilingual studies that have been done in the last 50 years. Perhaps it will be a good idea to return to some conclusions from 1940s and earlier saying that multilingualism causes underdevelopment in children.

I would strongly advise the author to replicate his studies and he will definitely obtain a Nobel Prize in the new field called: Fiddlesticks!
06:51 April 28, 2011 by Russ Cobleigh
both my kids are Bilingual, and are extremely smart and do very well in school. whoever rights this trash should be hit over the head with some common sense!
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