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The effect of bilingualism on letter and category fluency tasks in primary school children: Advantage or disadvantage?*



The aim of the current study was to examine the effects of bilingualism on letter and category fluency tasks. Participants were 1,600 monolingual and bilingual children from three cities in Iran: Tehran (Persian monolinguals), Tabriz (Turkish–Persian bilinguals), and Sanandaj (Kurdish–Persian bilinguals). We separately presented nine Persian letters and thirty-one categories to the participants, and asked them to generate as many words as possible using each of these initial letters and categories within a maximum of three minutes. Bilingual children generated more words than monolingual children in the letter fluency task; this effect was more pronounced in Grade 1 and for Turkish–Persian bilinguals. However, Persian monolinguals generated significantly more words than both bilingual groups in the category fluency task. Thus, bilingualism can be of both advantage and disadvantage, and produce a dissociative effect. We discuss the results on the basis of the specific nature and different cognitive demands of letter and category fluency tasks. We suggest that the degree of language proficiency of bilinguals should be considered as an important variable in future research on bilingualism.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Reza Kormi-Nouri, Center for Health & Medical Psychology (CHAMP), Örebro University, 701 82 Örebro, Sweden


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This study was part of a project entitled “The study of cognitive aspects of reading and dyslexia in bilingual and monolingual children”, approved and supported by research councils at the University of Tehran and the Ministry of Education in Iran. We would like to thank these two research organizations, all children who participated and all parents and teachers who helped and supported us in this study. Thanks also to Ali-Reza Gholami and Shima Nabifar for their valuable efforts during the data collection. We are also very grateful to anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.



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