Proving a positive connection between bilingualism and cognitive ability

Known as the father of the psychological study of bilingualism, Wallace E. Lambert was a professor in McGill’s psychology department from 1954 until 1990. In 1962, he and graduate student Elizabeth Peal published the seminal monograph The Relation of Bilingualism to Intelligence, which showed for the first time that bilingualism – far from being the handicap that researchers and the public thought it to be – actually confers unique cognitive advantages, with bilingual subjects outperforming unilingual subjects in both verbal and non-verbal testing.

Equally notable was Lambert’s influential research on immersion. In 1965, he launched a research project in French education for English-speaking children in Saint-Lambert, Quebec. He found that the academic skills of students enrolled in immersion programs often exceeded those of their unilingual counterparts, and the experiment proved so successful that it spread to communities across Canada and beyond.

Over the course of his accomplished career, Lambert published nearly 200 journal articles, monographs and books. But he is perhaps best remembered for the impact he had on his students, serving as a mentor to countless other pioneering researchers in the field of bilingualism. His worked earned him Fellowships at the Royal Society of Canada and the National Academy of Education, along with many other awards including Honorary President of the Canadian Psychological Association.