Here’s a fascinating new study demonstrating that it’s good to get exposed to multiple languages even as a preverbal infant:
Children exposed to bilingual input typically learn 2 languages without obvious difficulties. However, it is unclear how preverbal infants cope with the inconsistent input and how bilingualism affects early development. In 3 eye-tracking studies we show that 7-month-old infants, raised with 2 languages from birth, display improved cognitive control abilities compared with matched monolinguals. Whereas both monolinguals and bilinguals learned to respond to a speech or visual cue to anticipate a reward on one side of a screen, only bilinguals succeeded in redirecting their anticipatory looks when the cue began signaling the reward on the opposite side. Bilingual infants rapidly suppressed their looks to the first location and learned the new response. These findings show that processing representations from 2 languages leads to a domain-general enhancement of the cognitive control system well before the onset of speech.
The secret isn’t language per se – it’s the inconsistency of the input, which seems to give the baby an additional form of cognitive exercise.
Update: Ed Yong has a typically fantastic description of the experiment.