The effect of childhood bilingualism on episodic and semantic memory tasks


Reza Kormi-Nouri, BSR: Department of Psychology, Örebro University, 701 82 Örebro, Sweden. E-mail:


Kormi-Nouri, Moniri and Nilsson (2003) demonstrated that Swedish-Persian bilingual children recalled at a higher level than Swedish monolingual children, when they were tested using Swedish materials. The present study was designed to examine the bilingual advantage of children who use different languages in their everyday life but have the same cultural background and live in their communities in the same way as monolingual children. In four experiments, 488 monolingual and bilingual children were compared with regard to episodic and semantic memory tasks. In experiments 1 and 2 there were 144 boys and 144 girls in three school groups (aged 9–10 years, 13–14 years and 16–17 years) and in three language groups (Persian monolingual, Turkish-Persian bilingual, and Kurdish-Persian bilingual). In experiments 3 and 4, there were 200 male students in two school groups (aged 9–10 years and 16–17 years) and in two language groups (Persian monolingual and Turkish-Persian bilingual). In the episodic memory task, children learned sentences (experiments 1–3) and words (Experiment 4). Letter and category fluency tests were used as measures of semantic memory. To change cognitive demands in memory tasks, in Experiment 1, the integration of nouns and verbs within sentences was manipulated by the level of association between verb and noun in each sentence. At retrieval, a recognition test was used. In experiments 2 and 3, the organization between sentences was manipulated at encoding in Experiment 2 and at both encoding and retrieval in Experiment 3 through the use of categories among the objects. At retrieval, free recall or cued recall tests were employed. In Experiment 4, the bilingual children were tested with regard to both their first and their second language. In all four experiments, a positive effect of bilingualism was found on episodic and semantic memory tasks; the effect was more pronounced for older than younger children. The bilingual advantage was not affected by changing cognitive demands or by using first/second language in memory tasks. The present findings support the cross-language interactivity hypothesis of bilingual advantage.