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[en] Living in poverty is often accompanied by conditions that can negatively influence cognitive development. Is it possible that being bilingual might counteract these effects? Although previous research has shown that being bilingual enhances
executive functioning in middle-class children, less is known about how it affects lower income populations. This study was the first to explore whether the cognitive advantage associated with bilingualism in executive functioning extends to young immigrant children challenged by poverty and, if it does, which specific processes are most affected.
A total of 80 second graders from low-income families participated in the study. Half of the children were first or second generation immigrants to Luxembourg, originally from Northern Portugal, who spoke both Luxembourgish and Portuguese on a daily basis. The other matched half of children lived in Northern Portugal and spoke only Portuguese. Children completed measures of vocabulary and visuospatial tests of working memory, abstract reasoning, selective attention, and interference suppression. Two broad cognitive factors of executive functioning — representation (abstract reasoning and working memory) and control (selective attention and interference suppression) — emerged from principal component analysis. Although the bilingual children knew fewer words than their monolingual peers, and did not show an advantage in representation, the bilinguals performed significantly better than did the monolinguals in cognitive control. These results demonstrate, first, that the bilingual advantage is neither confounded with nor limited by
socioeconomic and cultural factors and, second, that separable aspects of executive functioning are differentially affected by bilingualism. The bilingual advantage lies in control but not in visuospatial representational processes.
This is the first study to show that, although they may face linguistic challenges, minority bilingual children from low-income families demonstrate important strengths in other cognitive domains. The study therefore informs efforts to reduce the achievement gap between children of different