Speaking two languages fluently – bilingualism – has been found to protect the working memory of children with epilepsy from typical weakening of this function, a study has shown.
Many childhood epilepsy syndromes weaken the children’s executive skills – these are skills that help people manage their time, pay attention, plan and organise.
However, a link has previously been found between bilingualism and an improved executive functioning in healthy people. Researcher Amy Veenstra and her colleagues set out to investigate bilingualism in children with epilepsy. They wanted to see if the positive effect of speaking two languages would help to offset some of the weakening of executive function in children with epilepsy.
The study authors looked at data collected on 52 children, analysing their behaviour and cognitive functions like reasoning, memory, attention and language. They compared children who only spoke one language to bilingual children, controlling for other factors like socioeconomic status and ethnicity.
The bilingual children had significantly better scores on the Working Memory Index, which tests things like the children’s short-term memory, concentration and use of information.
The study is published in the February edition of Epilepsy & Behavior.