The Exposure Advantage: Early Exposure to a Multilingual Environment Promotes Effective Communication

Psychol Sci. 2015 Jul;26(7):1090-7. doi: 10.1177/0956797615574699. Epub 2015 May 8.


Early language exposure is essential to developing a formal language system, but may not be sufficient for communicating effectively. To understand a speaker's intention, one must take the speaker's perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking. We tested children on a task that required perspective taking to interpret a speaker's intended meaning. Monolingual children failed to interpret the speaker's meaning dramatically more often than both bilingual children and children who were exposed to a multilingual environment but were not bilingual themselves. Children who were merely exposed to a second language performed as well as bilingual children, despite having lower executive-function scores. Thus, the communicative advantages demonstrated by the bilinguals may be social in origin, and not due to enhanced executive control. For millennia, multilingual exposure has been the norm. Our study shows that such an environment may facilitate the development of perspective-taking tools that are critical for effective communication.

Keywords: bilingualism; cognitive development; communication; open data; open materials; perspective taking; social cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Language*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication*
  • Comprehension*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*