Psychological Science March 2010 vol. 21 no. 3 343-348
The Roots of Bilingualism in Newborns
The first steps toward bilingual language acquisition have already begun at birth. When tested on their preference for English versus Tagalog, newborns whose mothers spoke only English during pregnancy showed a robust preference for English. In contrast, newborns whose mothers spoke both English and Tagalog regularly during pregnancy showed equal preference for both languages. A group of newborns whose mothers had spoken both Chinese and English showed an intermediate pattern of preference for Tagalog over English. Preference for two languages does not suggest confusion between them, however. Study 2 showed that both English monolingual newborns and Tagalog-English bilingual newborns could discriminate English from Tagalog. The same perceptual and learning mechanisms that support acquisition in a monolingual environment thus also naturally support bilingual acquisition.