Cognitive flexibility is a hallmark of intelligence, as bilingual children illustrate.
In monolingual children, vocabulary size is a strong predictor of lexical variety in their storytelling. “Bilingual children often score lower than monolinguals on vocabulary tests, so they might produce fewer word types than monolinguals. However, studies have shown that bilingual children can tell stories with equivalent lexical variety to monolinguals,” related Canadian psychologists Elena Nicoladis & Sandra Wiebe.
The reason for bilingual’s storytelling skills despite lesser vocabulary is that learning multiple languages engenders flexibility in concept manipulation. As storytelling is the art of aptly conveying ideas, conceptual fluidity is the key skill, with vocabulary secondary.
“Cognitive flexibility helps bilingual children lexicalise concepts,” concluded Nicoladis & Wiebe. Nicoladis continued: “The number of words that bilingual children use in their stories is highly correlated with their cognitive flexibility – the ability to switch between thinking about different concepts.”
Crafts such as music and art also learn as languages, and thereby facilitate concept manipulation skill. Studies have shown that practicing crafts improves cognitive development. “Children who received music lessons showed improved language-based reasoning and the ability to plan, organize, and complete tasks, as well as improved academic achievement,” noted Dutch psychologist Artur Jaschke.
Skill is ultimately apt fluidity in arranging concepts.
Elena Nicoladis & Sandra Wiebe, “How to use a wide variety of words in telling a story with a small vocabulary: cognitive predictors of lexical selection for simultaneous bilingual children,” Language, Cognition and Neuroscience (14 October 2019).
“Bilingual children are strong, creative storytellers, study shows,” ScienceDaily (19 December 2019).
Artur C. Jaschke et al, “Longitudinal analysis of music education on executive functions in primary school children,” Frontiers in Neuroscience (28 February 2018).
“Music lessons improve children’s cognitive skills and academic performance,” ScienceDaily (26 March 2018).