Early childhood bilingualism: effects on brain structure and function

F1000Res. 2020 May 15:9:370. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.23216.2. eCollection 2020.


Growing up in a bilingual environment is becoming increasingly common. Yet, we know little about how this enriched language environment influences the connectivity of children's brains. Behavioural research in children and adults has shown that bilingualism experience may boost executive control (EC) skills, such as inhibitory control and attention. Moreover, increased structural and functional (resting-state) connectivity in language-related and EC-related brain networks is associated with increased executive control in bilingual adults. However, how bilingualism factors alter brain connectivity early in brain development remains poorly understood. We will combine standardised tests of attention with structural and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in bilingual children. This study will allow us to address an important field of inquiry within linguistics and developmental cognitive neuroscience by examining the following questions: Does bilingual experience modulate connectivity in language-related and EC-related networks in children? Do differences in resting-state brain connectivity correlate with differences in EC skills (specifically attention skills)? How do bilingualism-related factors, such as age of exposure to two languages, language usage and proficiency, modulate brain connectivity? We will collect structural and functional MRI, and quantitative measures of EC and language skills from two groups of English-Greek bilingual children - 20 simultaneous bilinguals (exposure to both languages from birth) and 20 successive bilinguals (exposure to English between the ages of 3 and 5 years) - and 20 English monolingual children, 8-10 years old. We will compare connectivity measures and attention skills between monolinguals and bilinguals to examine the effects of bilingual exposure. We will also examine to what extent bilingualism factors predict brain connectivity in EC and language networks. Overall, we hypothesize that connectivity and EC will be enhanced in bilingual children compared to monolingual children, and each outcome will be modulated by age of exposure to two languages and by bilingual language usage.

Keywords: Bilingual; MRI; brain; children; executive control.; language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Executive Function*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Multilingualism*
  • Reproducibility of Results

Grants and funding

This project is funded by The Leverhulme Trust (Grant reference: RPG-2017-403).