Bilingual cognitive and language development in the early years El desarrollo cognitivo y lingüístico bilingüe en edades tempranas

Contenido principal del artículo

Marina Castey Moreno
Jesús Paz-Albo



Este artículo muestra cómo aprender dos idiomas desde una edad temprana puede ser una ventaja para el desarrollo de los niños. Aunque los estudios sobre el desarrollo del aprendizaje lingüístico no son nuevos, es crucial comprender las ventajas de ser bilingüe desde una edad muy temprana. En el contexto de estas aportaciones sobre el desarrollo bilingüe, este artículo proporciona un estado de la cuestión acerca de los efectos del proceso de adquisición del lenguaje en el desarrollo cognitivo infantil. Los resultados de esta revisión sugieren que los niños bilingües tienen beneficios cognitivos que redundan en su éxito como estudiantes. Sin embargo, hay algunos desafíos que aun pueden abordarse para que los niños bilingües mejoren aún más su capacidad de aprendizaje. Ser bilingüe, lejos de provocar problemas, mejora las habilidades cognitivas. En este sentido, es preciso fomentar más investigaciones sobre el bilingüismo en la primera infancia.

Palabras clave: Cerebro bilingüe; bilingüismo temprano; desarrollo bilingüe; primera infancia; adquisición del lenguaje


This article offers an examination of how learning two languages from an early age may be an asset to children’s development. Although discourses on language learning development are not new, it is crucial to understand the benefits of being bilingual from a very early age. At the interface of bilingual development, the present review article provides a summary of the knowledge gained by science into the effects on children’s cognitive development during the language acquisition process. Results from this review suggest that bilingual children enjoy cognitive gains which are critical for students’ success but there are some challenges that can be addressed to further enhance bilingual children’s learning. Rather than causing any kind of delay, being bilingual improves cognitive skills and more research on early childhood bilingualism must be further developed.

Keywords: Bilingual brain; early bilingualism; bilingual development; early childhood; language acquisition

Detalles del artículo

Estudios e Investigaciones


Barac, R., & Bialystok, E. (2012). Bilingual effects on cognitive and linguistic development: role of language, cultural background, and education. Child Development, 83(2), 413–422.

Bartolotti, J., & Marian, V. (2012). Language learning and control in monolinguals and bilinguals. Cognitive Science, 36(6), 1129-1147.

Bialystok, E., & Feng, X. (2011). Language proficiency and its implications for monolingual and bilingual children. In A. Y. Durgunoglu & C. Goldenberg (Eds.), Language and literacy development in bilingual settings (pp. 121–138). New York, NY: Guilford.

Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(4), 240-250.

Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Freedman, M. (2007). Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia, 45, 459–464.

Calvo, N., García, A. M., Manoiloff, L., & Ibáñez, A. (2015). Bilingualism and cognitive reserve: a critical overview and a plea for methodological innovations. Frontiers Aging Neuroscience 7, 249.

Cheour, M., Ceponiene, R., Lehtokoski, A., Luuk, A., Allik, J., Alho, K., & Näätänen, R. (1998). Development of language-specific phoneme representations in the infant brain. Nature Neuroscience, 1, 351–353.

Colzato, L. S., Bajo, M. T., van den Wildenberg, W., Paolieri, D., Nieuwenhuis, S., La Heji, W., & Hommel, B. (2008). How does bilingualism improve executive control? A comparison of active and reactive inhibition mechanisms. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34(2), 302–312.

Conboy, B. T., & Mills, D. L. (2006). Two languages, one developing brain: event-related potentials to words in bilingual toddlers. Developmental Science, 9(1), F1–12.

Conboy, B. T., & Thal, D. J. (2006). Ties between the lexicon and grammar: cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of bilingual toddlers. Child Development, 77(3), 712-735.

Costa, A., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2014). How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(5), 336–345.

Craik, F. I. M., Bialystok, E., & Freedman, M. (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease: bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. Neurology, 75(19), 1726–1729.

de Groot, A. M. B., & Christoffels, I. K. (2006). Language control in bilinguals: monolingual tasks and simultaneous interpreting. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 189–201.

Deniz, D., Richards, T., & Kuhl, P. K. (2013). Early gray-matter and white-matter concentration in infancy predict later language skills: A whole brain voxel-based morphometry study. Brain & Language, 124(1), 34-44.

Eilers, R. (2005, January). The social circumstances of bilingualism: The Miami experience. Childhood Bilingualism: Current Status and Future Directions. (pp. 2-4). Retrieved from

Eimas, P. D., Siqueland, E. R., Jusczyk, P., & Vigorito, J. (1971). Speech perception in infants. Science, 171, 303–306.

Ferjan, N., & Kuhl, P. K. (2017a). The brain science of bilingualism. Young Children, 72(2), 38-44.

Ferjan, N., & Kuhl, P. K. (2017b). Bilingual baby: foreign language intervention in Madrid’s infant education centers. Mind, Brain and Education, 11(3), 133-143.

Ferjan, N., & Kuhl, P. K. (2016). Bilingual language learning in children. Retrieved from

Ferjan, N., Ramírez, R. R., Clarke, M., Taulu, S., & Kuhl, P. K. (2017). Speech discrimination in 11-month-old bilingual and monolingual infants: a magnetoencephalography study. Developmental Science, 20(1), e12427.

Garcia-Sierra, A., Rivera-Gaxiola, M., Percaccio, C. R., Conboy, B. T., Romo, H., Klarman, L., … Kuhl, P. K. (2011). Bilingual language learning: an ERP study relating early brain responses to speech, language input, and later word production. Journal of Phonetics, 39(4), 546–557.

Garcia, A. (2015, January 16). What the rising popularity in dual language programs could mean for dual language learners [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Graf, K., & Hay, J. F. (2015). Flexibility in bilingual infants’ word learning. Child Development, 86(5), 1371–1385.

Health, N. I. (2012, April 3). Bilinguals Switch Tasks Faster than Monolinguals. News Releases. Retrieved from

Hoff, E., & Core, C. (2013). Input and language development in bilingually developing children. Seminars in Speech and Language, 34(4), 215–226.

Hoff, E., Core, C., Place, S., Rumiche, R., Señor, M., & Parra, M. (2012). Dual language exposure and early bilingual development. Journal of Child Language, 39(1), 1–27.

Johnson, J. S., & Newport, E. L. (1989). Critical period effects in second language learning: the influence of maturational state on the acquisition of English as a second language. Cognitive Psychology, 21(1), 60–99.

King, K., & Fogle, L. (2006). Bilingual parenting as good parenting: parents’ perspectives on family language policy for additive bilingualism. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 9(6), 695–712.

Kovács, A. M., & Mehler, J. (2009a). Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(16), 6556–6560.

Kovács, A. M., & Mehler, J. (2009b). Flexible learning of multiple speech structures in bilingual infants. Science, 325(5940), 611–612.

Kroll, J. F., Bobb, S. C., & Hoshino, N. (2014). Two languages in mind: Bilingualism as a tool to investigate language, cognition, and the brain. Current directions in psychological science, 23(3), 159–163.

Kuhl, P. K. (2011). Early language learning and literacy: neuroscience implications for education. Mind, Brain and Education, 5(3), 128-142.

Kuhl, P. K., Conboy, B. T., Coffey-Corina, S., Padden, D., Rivera-Gaxiola, M., & Nelson, T. (2008). Phonetic learning as a pathway to language: new data and native language magnet theory expanded (NLM-e). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363, 979–1000.

Kuhl, P. K., & Rivera-Gaxiola, M. (2008). Neural substrates of language acquisition. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 31, 511-534.

Kuhl, P. K., Stevens, E., Hayashi, A., Deguchi, T., Kiritani, S., & Iverson, P. (2006). Infants show a facilitation effect for native language phonetic perception between 6 and 12 months. Developmental Science, 9(2), F13–F21.

Kuhl, P. K., Tsao, F. M., & Liu, H. M. (2003). Foreign-language experience in infancy: effects of short-term exposure and social interaction on phonetic learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100(15), 9096–9101.

Kuhl, P. K., Williams, K. A., Lacerda, F., Stevens, K. N., & Lindblom, B. (1992). Linguistic experience alters phonetic perception in infants by 6 months of age. Science, 255, 606–608.

López, L. (2018). Introduction: theory and methodology in code-switching research. In L. López (Ed.), Code-switching: experimental answers to theoretical questions. In honor of Kay González-Vilbazo (pp. 1-14). New York: John Benjamins.

Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 2012, 13.

Marian, V., & Spivey, M. (2003). Bilingual and monolingual processing of competing lexical items. Applied Psycholinguistics, 24(2), 173–193.

McCabe, A., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Bornstein, M. H., Cates, C. B., Golinkoff, R., Guerra, A.W., … Song, L. (2013). Multilingual children: beyond myths and toward best practices. Social Policy Report, Society for Research in Child Development, 27(4), 1–37.

Mora, F. (2017). Neuroeducación [Neuroeducation]. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

Newport, E. L. (1990). Maturational constraints on language learning. Cognitive Science, 14(1), 11–28.

Paradis, J., Nicoladis, E, & Genesee, F. (2000). Early emergence of structural constraints on code-mixing: evidence from French–English bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3(3), 245–261.

Parra, M., Hoff, E., & Core, C. (2011). Relations among language exposure, phonological memory, and language development in Spanish-English bilingually developing two-year-olds. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 108(1), 113–125.

Petitto, L. A. (2009). New discoveries from the bilingual brain and mind across the life span: implications for education. Mind Brain and Education, 3(4), 185–197.

Petitto, L. A., Berens, M. S., Kovelman, I., Dubins, M. H., Jasinska, K., & Shalinsky, M. (2012). The “Perceptual Wedge’ Hypothesis” as the basis for bilingual babies’ phonetic processing advantage: new insights from fNIRS brain imaging. Brain and Language, 121(2), 130–143.

Petitto, L. A., Katerelos, M., Levy, B. G., Gauna, K., Tétreault, K., & Ferraro, V. (2001). Bilingual signed and spoken language acquisition from birth: Implications for the mechanism underlying early bilingual language acquisition. Journal of Child Language, 28(2), 453–496.

Place, S., & Hoff, E. (2011). Properties of dual language exposure that influence two-year-old’s bilingual proficiency. Child Development, 82(6), 1834–1849.

Prior, A., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). A bilingual advantage in task switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13(2), 253–262.

Ramírez-Esparza, N., García-Sierra, A., & Kuhl, P. K. (2016). The impact of early social interactions on later Language development in Spanish–English bilingual infants. Child Development, 1-19.

Ramírez-Esparza, N., García-Sierra, A., & Kuhl, P. K. (2014). Look who’s talking: speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development. Developmental Science, 17(6), 880–891.

Rivera-Gaxiola, M., Silva-Pereyra, J., & Kuhl, P. K. (2005). Brain potentials to native and non-native speech contrasts in 7- and 11-month-old American infants. Developmental Science, 8(2), 162–72.

Stern, Y. (2002). What is cognitive reserve? Theory and research application of the reserve concept. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 8(3), 448–460.

Streeter, L. A. (1976). Language perception of 2-month-old infants shows effects of both innate mechanisms and experience. Nature, 259, 39–41.

Sundara, M., Polka, L., & Genesee, F. (2006). Language-experience facilitates discrimination of /d-ð/ in monolingual and bilingual acquisition of English. Cognition, 100, 369–388.

Weikum, W. M., Vouloumanos, A., Navarra, J., Soto-Faraco, S., Sebastián-Gallés, N., & Werker, J. F. (2007). Visual language discrimination in infancy. Science, 316, 1159.

Williams, C. P., Garcia, A., Connally, K., Cook, S., & Dancy, K. (2016). Multilingual paraprofessionals: an untapped resource for supporting American pluralism. New America Education Policy. Retrieved from

Zhang, Y., Kuhl, P. K., Imada, T., Iverson, P., Pruitt, J., Stevens, E. B., … Nemoto, I. (2009). Neural signatures of phonetic learning in adulthood: a magnetoencephalography study. NeuroImage, 46(1), 226–240.