Research corner

27th March 2015, 12:00am


Research corner

`White-Matter Development is Different in Bilingual and Monolingual Children: a longitudinal DTI study' by Mohades, S G, Van Schuerbeek, P, Rosseel, Y et al, Plos One, February 2015


Multiculturalism can help children to develop a rich sense of social tolerance; this study concludes that the presence of more than one language can also give children intellectual advantages over their monolingual classmates.

Using mean fractional-anisotropy (MFA) - a method of measuring the three-dimensional range of neurons - researchers examined the "neuroplasticity" of four white-matter language pathways in the brain. The two-year study looked at a group of 40 bilingual and monolingual children.

The researchers conclude that "simultaneous bilinguals" (children who learn two languages at once) and "sequential bilinguals" (those who learn a second language later) experience significant increases in the MFA value of their left inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, a major neurological highway that connects the prefrontal brain regions responsible for literacy, numeracy and social functions to the occipital lobes (the visual processing centres).

Other white-matter "bundles" responsible for linguistic capabilities were seen to mature faster in bilingual children, including the corpus callosum, a wide track of neural fibres situated below the main cortex.

Bilingual schoolchildren can all reap the rewards of being simultaneously or sequentially bilingual, but those who learn languages implicitly rather than explicitly are the clear front-runners, according to the study. These are children who learn their secondary language from the age of 3 or 4. Overall, the magnitude of change in white matter was found to be related to the number of years of being bilingual.

Although gender variances are not explored, the researchers conclude that a larger investigation with a longer time frame could further the advance of one of neuroscience's foggiest areas: the effect of language on male and female neuroanatomical development.

Share your views by tweeting @tes

Hot off the press

The Hungry Mind: the origins of curiosity in childhood by Susan Engel (Harvard University Press)

ISBN 9780674736757

Susan Engel explores what curiosity is and how it develops in childhood - shaped by experiences with parents, teachers, peers and the learning environment - as well as how it can be fostered in school. She offers practical advice to put curiosity at the centre of the classroom and encourage children's natural eagerness to learn.

The Whale Who Saved Us by Nicola Davies (Walker Books)

ISBN 9781406356106

The fifth title in the Heroes of the Wild series is based on a real conservation project to protect bowhead whales. The Arctic adventure tells the tale of Suki, a troubled girl who is sent to live with relatives in Whale Bay and learns to thrive in the natural world.

Science in Wonderland: the scientific fairy tales of Victorian Britain by Melanie Keene (Oxford University Press)

ISBN 9780199662654

Melanie Keene analyses a range of Victorian fairy tales, examining why the form was used as a means of communicating scientific discoveries to young audiences. She demonstrates how writers converted technical knowledge and ideas into imaginative tales where forces were fairies, dinosaurs were dragons and looking closely at a drop of water revealed a soup of monsters.

For book queries, please email chloe.darracott-cankovic

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters