Already in primary school, bilingual students with an immigrant background show academic achievements significantly below those of their monolingual peers. Those difficulties are most probably due to a low proficiciency in the language of instruction. Beside those disadvantages bilinguals are facing, cognitive psycholoy has shown advantages of bilingual children in the domain of cognitive control processes, known as executive functions (EF), compared to monolinguals.

The project described here has two objectives. In the first part of the project, we would like to answer the following questions: Can children with high EF competencies – under which bilingual children are over-represented in comparison to monolinguals – partially compensate for deficits in their language skills? Which relationships do exist between language status (mono- vs. bilingual), language skills and EF and what are their distinct and shared contributions to academic achievement? In a longitudinal design with two obersavtions at intervals of 4 months, we will assess the linguistic, cognitive and academic skills (reading, writing and mathematics) in German monolingual students (3rd grade) and bilingual children with a German-Russian or German-Turkish background. Concerning ​​cognitive abilities, two indicators for each of the three components of EF (working memory, inhibition, cognitive flexibility) and non-verbal intelligence as a control variable will be assessed.

Some authors have challenged the view of a bilingual advantage in EF, arguing that the evidence for a bilingual advantage is mixed. Therefore, to further the understanding of how exactly and under which circumstances bilingual advantages emerge, the second part of the project focuses on the more detailed investigation of the underlying cognitive processes in solving complex EF tasks in bilingual versus monolingual children. In an experimental design, we examine the use of verbal self-instruction on the one hand, and attention-based processes on the other. To what extent are eye movement patterns – as an indicator of attentional processes – in monolinguals and bilinguals related to performance in EF tasks? What are the differences in the use of verbal self-instruction in mono- and bilingual children? In two test sessions, the complex planning task Tower of London and the emotionally significant, hence “hot”, Iowa Gambling Task are carried out with German-speaking and German-Russian-speaking elementary school children (3rd grade). The computer-based measurement will be accompanied by eye-tracking to record children’s eye movements. A verbal interference paradigm will help to examine the not directly observable self-instructions.

Information about the project

Funding by the German Research Foundation (DFG)

(duration: 01.08.2017 - 31.07.2020)