The Swerve: How Childhood Bilingualism Changed From Liability to Beneft

Ellen Bialystok, Kornelia Hawrylewicz, John G. Grundy, Ashley Chung-Fat-Yim

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Early research that relied on standardized assessments of intelligence reported negative effects of bilingualism for children, but a study by Peal and Lambert (1962) reported better performance by bilingual than monolingual children on verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests. This outcome led to the view that bilingualism was a positive experience. However, subsequent research abandoned intelligence tests as the assessment tool and evaluated performance on cognitive tasks, making the research after Peal and Lambert qualitatively different from that before their landmark study, creating a disconnect between the new and earlier research. These newer cognitive studies showed both positive effects of bilingualism and no differences between language groups. But why were Peal and Lambert’s results so different from previous studies that were also based on intelligence tests? The present study analyzed data from verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests that were collected from 6,077 participants across 79 studies in which intelligence tests were administered as background measures to various cognitive tasks. By including adults, the study extends the results across the life span. On standardized verbal tests, monolinguals outperformed bilinguals, but on nonverbal measures of intelligence, there were no differences between language groups. These results, which are different from those reported by Peal and Lambert, are used to reinterpret their findings in terms of the sociolinguistic, political, and cultural context in which the Peal and Lambert study was conducted and the relevance of those factors for all developmental research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWhere Language Meets Thought
Subtitle of host publicationSelected Works of Ellen Bialystok
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781040018798
ISBN (Print)9781032509280
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology


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