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34 The Influence of Bilingualism in Young Adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2023

Daniel W. Lopez-Hernandez*
University of California San Diego Health, San Diego, California, USA. The Lundquiste Institute, Torrance, California, USA.
Krissy E. Smith
The Lundquiste Institute, Torrance, California, USA. California State University Dominguez Hills, Carson, California, USA.
Chelsea McElwee
University of California Riverside, Riverside, California, USA
Tara L. Victor
California State University Dominguez Hills, Carson, California, USA.
Correspondence: Daniel W. Lopez-Hernandez, University of California San Diego Health,
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The research examining the influence of bilingualism on cognition continues to grow. Past research shows that monolingual speakers outperformed bilingual speakers on language, memory, and attention and processing speed tasks. However, the opposite has been found favoring bilingual speakers, when comparing executive functioning abilities. Furthermore, researchers have reported that no differences in executive functioning abilities exist between young adult monolingual speakers compared to young adult bilingual speakers. Moreover, limited research exists examining cognition abilities between monolinguals, bilinguals that learn a language (e.g., English) first, and bilinguals that learn the same language (e.g., English) second. We examined young adult monolinguals cognition abilities (e.g., memory) compared to young adult bilinguals that learned English as a first or second language. It was expected that the monolingual group would outperform both bilingual groups on memory, language, and attention and processing tasks, but no differences would be found on executive functioning tasks.

Participants and Methods:

The sample consisted of 149 right-handed undergraduate students with a mean age of 19.58 (SD = 1.90). Participants were neurologically and psychologically healthy and divided into three language groups: English first language (EFL) monolingual speakers, EFL bilingual speakers, and English second language (ESL) bilingual speakers. All the participants completed a background questionnaire and comprehensive neuropsychological battery that included memory, language, executive functioning, and attention and processing speed tasks in English. A series of ANOVA’s were used to evaluate cognitive tasks (e.g., Boston Naming Test, Trail Making Test) between the language groups. Participants demonstrated adequate effort on one performance validity test.


Language groups were well demographically matched. We found the EFL monolingual group outperformed the ESL bilingual group on the Wide Range Achievement Test, fourth edition task and the Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT) phonemic task, p’s < .05, np’s2 = .04-.05. Additionally, results revealed both monolingual groups outperformed the ESL bilingual group on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Third edition vocabulary task and the Boston Naming Test, p’s < .05, np’s2 = .06-.15. No significant differences were found on any of the cognitive tasks between the EFL monolingual group and the EFL bilingual group.


As expected, the ESL bilingual group performed worse on language tasks compared to both monolingual groups, specifically the EFL monolingual group. However, in the opposite direction, we found the EFL monolingual demonstrated better phonemic verbal fluency abilities on the COWAT compared to the ESL bilingual group. The current data suggest that bilingualism influences cognitive abilities (e.g., language, executive functioning) more ESL bilingual speakers compared to EFL monolingual speakers. A possible explanation may be due to the type of interaction that ESL bilingual speakers may prefer to have (i.e., mix language conversations) compared to EFL speaking groups. Future studies with a larger bilingual speaking sample should investigate if the Adaptive Control Hypothesis which suggest that different types of conversations may be placing different demands of language control influences cognitive abilities.

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