Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Influence of a Time Limit and Bilingualism on Scholastic Assessment Test Performance

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Influence of a Time Limit and Bilingualism on Scholastic Assessment Test Performance

Article excerpt

Approximately 20% of the US population speaks a language other than English with the rate increasing to 48% in New York City and 60% in Los Angeles (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Bilingualism in Europe is even more prevalent with approximately 56% of the population across all European Union countries being bilingual (European Commission, 2006). From 1980 to 2009, the number of school-age children (5-17 years old) in the United States speaking a language other than English at home increased from 4.7 to 11.2 million (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).

With the increase of Latin American students in the United States education system, it is important to determine the role of bilingualism on academic achievement (Bialystok, 2011). While the advantages of bilingualism have been well documented (Bialystok, 2009; Garcia-Vazquez, Vazquez, & Lopez, 1997), disadvantages of bilingualism have equally been documented (Bialystok & Depape, 2009; Gollan, Bonanni, & Montoya, 2005). The purpose of the present study was to explore the relationship between bilingualism and Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) performance. Taken by more than two million students every year, the SAT is required by many institutions as part of the college application process (The College Board, 2011).

Bilingualism defined. People may be considered bilingual in many ways: 1) people who speak, read, and write fluently in two languages; 2) people who speak, read, and write in one language, but can only speak the second language; and 3) speak, read, and write in one language, but understand to some extent a second language (Romaine, 1995). Valdes and Figueroa (1994) define simultaneous bilinguals as people who have acquired a first and second language at the same time. Sequential bilinguals are people who acquire their second language after the first language was acquired. Circumstantial bilinguals are those that must learn a second language due to living circumstances in order to survive, such as immigrants living in the United States. Elective bilinguals are people who choose to become bilingual, but do not need the second language in order to live, such as college students taking a foreign language course.

Research finds that individuals need at least five years of language experience to develop problem solving ability in the language (Cummins, 1981). Regular use of both languages is also necessary for bilingual development (Grosjean, 1992). Further, language ability can be influenced by the individual's perceived ability in speaking the second language. Bandura (1993) postulates that performance is optimized when the individual has a high degree of self confidence in their ability. For the purpose of the present study, bilingualism is defined as the regular use of a second language for at least five years, and a perceived skill level of advanced.

Advantages of Bilingualism. Researchers who advocate learning a foreign language suggest bilingualism enhances cognitive ability (Bialystok, Craik, & Freedman, 2007). Studies have shown that children, adults, and older adults who are lifelong bilinguals and speak both languages on a daily basis show higher levels of executive control compared to monolinguals (Bialystok & Depape, 2009). Speaking more than one language may even delay the onset of dementia (Bialystok et al., 2007). Learning two languages seems to enhance mental flexibility and superior concept formation (Garcia-Vazquez et al., 1997). The mechanisms for these underlying phenomena are yet to be determined, but the management of multiple language systems seems to yield cognitive benefits (Bialystok & Depape, 2009).

A meta-analysis conducted by Adesope, Lavin, Thompson, and Ungerleider (2010) revealed that bilingualism is dependent on several cognitive activities such as attentional control, working memory, metalinguistic awareness, and abstract and symbolic representation skills. …

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