Childhood Bilingualism: Introduction and Overview
Peter Homel Michael Palij Doris Aaronson New York University
In 1962, Peal and Lambert published the results of a study comparing bilingual and monolingual children on various measures of intelligence and achievement. Their findings were surprising, at least in light of certain assumptions that had been prevalent in child psychology up to that time. They found no evidence to indicate any sort of intellectual deficiency in bilingual children. The performance of bilinguals on all measures was either equivalent or superior to that of their monolingual comparison group. These results were in clear contradiction to a belief that had come to be accepted as truism by psychologists and laymen alike, especially in North America: The acquisition of two languages in childhood. impairs intellectual development -- it leads to mental confusion or difficulties in coordinating language and thought in children. The results obtained by Peal and Lambert suggested that there are no detrimental effects of bilingualism, and there may even be some cognitive advantages.
Peal and Lambert's study had a major impact on at least two aspects of childhood bilingualism. First, it sparked a renewed interest in the study of childhood bilingualism among psychologists and educators. Second (and perhaps even more important), it provided one of the major justifications for the establishment of bilingual education programs during the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially in Canada and the United States.
The number'of studies dealing with childhood bilingualism increased dramatically throughout the rest of the 1960s and 1970s. Most of this research concentrated on cognitive development, basically replicating the results of Peal and Lambert either with different measures of cognitive performance or with different samples of bilingual children. A few studies looked at the social and personal aspects of growing up with two languages. Yet another set of studies considered