Bilingual children use as many words as kids who speak one language while telling a story, and show high levels of cognitive flexibility as storytellers, according to a study. "We found that the number of words that bilingual children use in their stories is highly correlated with their cognitive flexibility -- the ability to switch between thinking about different concepts," said professor Elena Nicoladis from the University of Alberta in Canada.
"This suggests that bilinguals are adept at using the medium of storytelling," Nicoladis said.
She noted that vocabulary is a strong predictor of school achievement, and so is storytelling. These results suggest that parents of bilingual children do not need to be concerned about long-term school achievement, the researchers said.
In a storytelling context, bilingual kids are able to use this flexibility to convey stories in creative ways, they said. The researchers examined a group of French-English bilingual children between the ages of four and six who had been taught two languages since birth, rather than learning a second language later in life.
The results, published in the journal Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, showed that bilingual children used just as many words to tell a story in English as monolingual children did.
Participants also used just as many words in French as they did in English when telling a story, the researchers said. Previous research has shown that bilingual children score lower than monolingual children on traditional vocabulary tests -- something Nicoladis said is not surprising.
"Learning a word is related to how much time you spend in each language. For bilingual children, time is split between languages," she explained.
"So, unsurprisingly, they tend to have lower vocabularies in each of their languages," said Nicoladis. However, this research shows that as a function of storytelling, bilingual children are equally strong as monolingual children," she said.