Sequential Multilingualism and Cognitive Abilities: Preliminary Data on the Contribution of Language Proficiency and Use in Different Modalities
Journal article by Marlijne Boumeester, Marije C. Michel and Valantis Fyndanis in Behavioral Sciences, published 26 August, 2019.
This exploratory study focuses on sequential bi-/multilinguals (specifically, nonimmigrant young Dutch native speakers who learned at least one foreign language (FL) at or after the age of 5) and investigates the impact of proficiency-based and amount-of-use-based degrees of multilingualism in different modalities (i.e., speaking, listening, writing, reading) on inhibition, disengagement of attention, and switching. Fifty-four participants completed a comprehensive background questionnaire, a nonverbal fluid intelligence task, a Flanker task, and the Trail Making Test. Correlational and regression analyses considering multilingualism related variables and other variables that may contribute to the cognitive abilities under investigation (e.g., years of formal education, socioeconomic status, physical activity, playing video-games) revealed that only proficiency-based degrees of multilingualism impacted cognitive abilities. Particularly, mean FL writing proficiency affected inhibition (i.e., significant positive flanker effect) and L2 listening proficiency influenced disengagement of attention (i.e., significant negative sequential congruency effect). Our findings suggest that only those speakers who have reached a certain proficiency threshold in more than one FL show a cognitive advantage, which, in our sample, emerged in inhibition only. Furthermore, our study suggests that, regarding the impact of proficiency-based degrees of multilingualism on cognitive abilities, for our participants the writing and listening modalities mattered most.