Children who speak two languages outperform their monolingual peers in the classroom because they are more likely to filter out disruptive noises, according to a research, The Telegraph reports.
Pupils raised bilingually develop a more acute sense for words – even when presented with background chatter in the classroom – that allows them to remain “on task” during exercises, it is claimed.
The study, led by academics from UK’s Anglia Ruskin University, found that pupils speaking only one language fell behind in reading tests by the age of nine.
Researchers found that noise negatively affected their ability to pay attention, especially when comprehending more difficult sentences.
The findings “shed new light” on the positive effects of learning a second language early in life, with significant knock-on benefits as children grow up, academics said.
It is also likely to help explain why children who speak English as a second language – including those from refugee and asylum seeker families – are starting to overtake native speakers in some subjects. For the first time in 2013, they gained higher scores in a range of academic GCSEs than their peers with English as their mother tongue, it emerged.
The conclusions follows a government decision to make languages a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum from the age of seven for the first time this year.
The study – published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition – involved children aged between seven and 10 at a Cambridge primary school. Researchers selected two groups of pupils – 20 who were monolingual English speakers and another 20 with an additional language. This includes those who spoke Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Armenian, Bengali, Polish, Czech, Russian and Portuguese.
Pupils were asked to complete a computer-based reading game, with noise distractions filtered in through headphones to simulate the classroom environment.
The study, which was also conducted with academics from Northwestern University in Chicago and Birkbeck, University of London, said that bilingual pupils could process the information in a more efficient way as the game increased in difficulty, according to The Telegraph.
It emerged that the level of accuracy in comprehension was 63 per cent among bilingual pupils compared with 51 per cent for monolinguals.
Researchers also found that the ability to overcome verbal interference improved with age in bilingual speakers but not in monolinguals.