The study, conducted on three- to six-year-old kids attending an international school in Beijing, found that generally girls faced more social adjustment problems than boys.
All the students, belonging to 16 nationalities, were dealing with both Chinese and English, which implied that each child was learning at least one new language.
"In early childhood, we know from previous research that girls are more verbal and more social than boys, generally speaking, but what we found in this study is that girls had a tougher time with social adjustment in the classroom," said Anne Soderman, MSU professor emeritus of family and child ecology and lead researcher on the project.
It was found that girls who did not understand teachers or classmates at the 3e International School tended to withdraw more than their male counterparts.
The pupils at the "dual immersion" school were taught in Mandarin during the morning and English in the afternoon.
In the last school year, Soderman, a consultant at the school, examined preschoolers and kindergartners, by using more than 100 two- to three-hour observations in the classroom and teachers' perceptions of the children's social adjustment on the Social Competence Behaviour Evaluation scale.
Soderman said that young children overall were found to have a more difficult time learning a second language than many people believe.
"There's a wide-held perception that if children are very young, learning language is extremely easy for them - that they are like sponges - and that is just not true. Their motivations for doing so are very different from those of older children or adults," she said.
The study has been published in the latest issue of European Early Childhood Education Research Journal.