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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Bilingual Knowledge And Cognitive Ability

Christo Moskovsky.

In cognitive science, the crucial importance of language in relation to all forms of cognition is widely recognised. Most thinking is carried out in verbal form. Language is the principal medium for representing knowledge. There is a close interrelationship between lexical semantics and the individualís conceptual system, with emerging evidence that individuals favour concepts which are linguistically coded (compared to those which are not).
The key role of language in relation to cognitive ability is also manifested in bilingual speakers: numerous studies in recent years show a distinct correlation between knowledge of more than one language and cognitive ability, especially metalinguistic skills, divergent and creative thinking. Most such studies emphasize that, for such cognitive advantages to be observed, the bilingual speaker must be proficient in both languages.
Such studies underscore the need for increased language education, especially in the first years of oneís life: during what for many constitutes the Critical Period for language acquisition. The importance of early exposure to extensive language instruction is supported by studies of early development of the brain: it has been shown that the types of inputs the brain receives in the first 4 or 5 years of oneís life have long-lasting effects on the types of neural structures formed in the brain.
The paper argues for the need to create second language learning opportunities for pre-school children, perhaps as early as the age of two or three.


Christo Moskovsky
School of Language & Media
The University of Newcastle Callaghan, NSW 2308 Australia

  • Language
  • Thinking
  • Bilingualism
  • Cognitive ability
  • Critical period
  • Language education

(30 min Conference Paper, English)