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Proof That Bilingual Kids Grow Up to Be More Accepting and Tolerant Adults

by Cathy Brown Mar 27, 2015

A new study from Concordia has been testing whether early second-language education could promote higher acceptance levels of social and physical diversity. And what do you know — oui and si, it looks to be true.

Most young kids believe that human characteristics are innate. That kind of reasoning leads many to think that things such as native language and clothing preference are intrinsic rather than acquired.

But it seems like bilingual kids, especially those who learn another language in the preschool years, are more apt to understand that it’s what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes up a person’s psychological attributes. Unlike their one-language-speaking friends, many kids who have been exposed to a second language after age three believe that an individual’s traits arise from experience.

The Concordia study tested a total of 48 monolingual, simultaneous bilingual (learned two languages at once) and sequential bilingual (learned one language and then another) five- and six-year-olds.

These kiddos were told stories about babies born to English parents but who were later adopted by Italians, and also stories about ducks raised by dogs. The kids were then asked if those children would speak English or Italian when they grew up, and whether the babies born to dog parents would quack or bark. The kids were also quizzed on whether the baby ducks raised by dog parents would be feathery or furry.

The study predicted that sequential bilinguals’ own experience of learning language would help them understand that human language is actually learned, but that all children would expect other traits such as animal vocalizations and physical characteristics to be innate. But the results were a little surprising. Sequential bilinguals did demonstrate reduced essentialist beliefs about language — they knew that a baby raised by Italians would speak Italian. But they were also significantly more likely to believe that an animal’s physical traits and vocalizations are also learned through experience — for example, that a duck raised by dogs would bark and run instead of quack and fly.

Basically, monolinguals were more likely to think that everything is innate, while bilinguals were more likely to think that everything is learned.

This study provides an important demonstration that everyday experience in one aspect — language learning — can influence children’s beliefs about a wide range of domains, reducing children’s essentialist biases.

The study has important social implications because adults who hold stronger essentialist beliefs are more likely to endorse stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes; therefore, early second-language education could be used to promote the acceptance of human social and physical diversity.

So, in a nutshell, we’re offering you a good, scientifically backed-up excuse why you absolutely need to hit the road and travel with your kids more. It’s not for you; it’s basically for the benefit of all mankind. You’re welcome.

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