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The Contribution of Linguistic and Executive Processes to Cognitive and Academic Performance in Monolingual and Bilingual Primary School Children

Bilingual pupils with a migrant background already show weaker academic performance during primary school than their monolingual peers. These difficulties of bilingual pupils are often attributed to poor knowledge of the instructional language, i.e. inadequate knowledge of German among primary school children in Germany. In addition to these disadvantages of bilingual children, there are also indications in the cognitive psychology literature that bilingual children have advantages over monolingual children in the area of executive functions (EF).

Based on this state of research, the project described here pursues two goals. In the first part of the project we would like to answer the following questions, among others: Can children with good EF – among whom bilingual children are over-represented compared to monolingual children – partially compensate for weaknesses in their language skills? What are the connections between language status (monolingual vs. bilingual), language competences and EF and what are their distinct and common contributions to school performance? In a longitudinal design, the linguistic, cognitive and school skills (reading, writing and mathematics) of monolingual German and bilingual German-Russian and German-Turkish children in their third school year (8-9 years) are surveyed at intervals of approx. 4 months. In the area of cognitive skills, two indicators are recorded for each of the three sub-areas of EF (working memory, inhibition, cognitive flexibility) and non-verbal intelligence as a control variable.

Some authors consider the advantages of bilingual children over monolingual children in the area of executive functions to be insufficiently substantiated. In order to deepen the understanding of how exactly and under what circumstances bilingual advantages arise, the second part of the project focuses on a more detailed investigation of the underlying cognitive processes in solving complex EF tasks in bilingual versus monolingual children. In an experimental design, we investigate the use of verbal self-instruction on the one hand and attention-related processes on the other. To what extent do eye movement patterns as indicators of attention processes in monolingual and bilingual learners relate to performance in EF tasks? What are the differences in the use of verbal self-instruction in monolingual and bilingual children? In two test sessions, the complex planning task Tower of London and the affectively significant Iowa Gambling Task are carried out with German-speaking and German-Russian-speaking primary school children (3rd class). The measurement is carried out on the computer and the eye movements of the children are recorded with eye-tracking. The self-instructions that cannot be observed directly are examined by means of a verbal interference paradigm.

Dr. Catherine Gunzenhauser
Research Associate
Prof. Dr. Henrik Saalbach
Head of Department
M.Sc. Susanne Enke
Research Associate | PhD