Cognitive effects of Gaelic medium education on primary school children in Scotland

Ruth Cape, Mariana Vega-mendoza, Thomas H. Bak, Antonella Sorace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research has shown that learning more than one language may have beneficial effects on executive functions, such as focused attention, inhibitory control, and switching between tasks. Evidence demonstrating these effects comes from studies with infants, children and adults from a range of language combinations. Much less direct evidence of such effects exists with regard to the bilingual experience of children acquiring regional minority languages. This study addresses the question of whether English-speaking children attending Gaelic Medium Education in Scotland exhibit differences of executive function compared with English-speaking children attending English Medium Education. Primary Five pupils from English-medium and Gaelic-medium schools in two Scottish towns were tested on three tasks of attentional control. One task, requiring verbal response inhibition, provided evidence of a significant positive effect for Gaelic-medium pupils. The results suggest that the cognitive effects of attending Gaelic Medium Education are specific to certain tasks and are affected by the characteristics of this particular bilingual setting (i.e. acquiring the second language in a domain-specific context with one dominant language). This supports the notion that the context of the bilingual experience is an important factor in shaping the cognitive effects which may be gained through exposure to more than one language.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Early online date29 Nov 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Nov 2018


  • bilingualism
  • executive functions
  • inhibitory control
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Gaelic medium education
  • minority languages
  • response inhibition


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