Measuring vocabulary development in bilingual children

Elizabeth D. Peña:

Took me a while to come across this, but I ran across this post today looking for a copy of Core, et al’s paper and here’s a nice summary. The post spoke to me (and not only because it was posted on my birthday) but also because the work demonstrates the importance of looking at both languages when testing bilingual children–

Originally posted on so to Speak:

The topic of my first Research Tuesday Blog is (drumroll please): “Total and Conceptual Vocabulary in Spanish–English Bilinguals From 22 to 30 Months: Implications for Assessment.”

This is all there is to see folks

This is all there is to see, folks

To understand the purpose and findings of this article it is beneficial to know the difference between total and conceptual vocabulary.

Total vocabulary is the sum of the words a child knows across two languages.

Conceptual vocabulary gives the child credit for knowing concepts rather than words, and concepts that are represented in both languages are counted only once.

So basically, when looking at a bilingual child’s total vocabulary you would count both the word perro and the word dog. If you were looking at conceptual vocabulary you would only give the child credit for knowing one concept: the furry, four-legged creature in my house which barks and eats kibble is a dog/perro.

The bottom…

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Test Development, Item Bias, and the BESA

A couple of people have asked me whether the BESA can work with children in the Eastern US. Yes, I know I’m in Texas and the kids we see here are mainly speakers of Mexican Spanish. But, that doesn’t mean we didn’t collect data from kids in other parts of the country. Or that we didn’t collect data on kids who speak different dialects of Spanish. We collected data mainly in three places: California, Texas, and Pennsylvania. We also had data contributed from other places including Georgia, Utah and New Jersey. What was most important was that we included children who used conservative dialects of Spanish and radical dialects of Spanish. Also, for English speakers, we considered what dialect or variety of English they were learning including: Texas English, California English, African American English, general American English and so on. Why does this matter? Read the rest of this entry »

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Independent Research using the BESA

My collaborators and I did a number of studies of morphosyntax, semantics, phonology and pragmatics that informed development of the final version of the BESA. We’ve since done other studies using the BESA as an indicator of language impairment or phonological impairment. In addition, it is important to have independent studies of the BESA that evaluate its effectivness. There are a few studies so far that use the BESA, and I hope soon there will be more. Here is what I hope is only a partial list:  Read the rest of this entry »

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Receptive-Expressive Gaps in Bilinguals with LI

In a new paper in the area of semantics, we did an analysis of a group of bilingual 7 to 9;11 year old children with and without language impairment. We were interested in seeing if children with LI showed similar patterns on receptive and expressive semantics tasks compared to bilingual children with typical development. In a previous study, we examined younger (preschool age) bilingual children on expressive and receptive semantics items on the BESOS. In that study, described here, we found that in English, children showed higher standard scores receptivity compared to the scores they were able to achieve expressively when they had very little English exposure. We proposed that it was important to understand this potential for a receptive-expressive gap in children with LI. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dynamic Assessment of Bilingual Children in English

Previously, I talked about some exciting work that was being done in the area of dynamic assessment. This work together is looking at how to apply dynamic assessment to ELLs. We have our own contribution to make as well. The results give SLPs another potential strategy to use to determine whether children have language difference or language impairment. What’s really cool about this is that it works with children who know just a little English.

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BESA Research

I’ve been meaning to post some information about the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment and we have. Here, we respond to some FAQs. And here, I provided an overview of what it does, how it works, and its specificity/sensitivity data. In addition to this information and what is in the manual, we have written a number of papers over the years that led directly to what we included (and excluded) from the BESA. So, below I will provide some of the links to abstracts of papers we’ve written about earlier versions of the BESA. These are the studies that we conduced to refine the items and the test so that the final published version has a high degree of classification accuracy.

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Really? Can kids with Language Impairment or _____ Learn TWO Languages?

Is the earth round, really? It seems flat to me. I’ve been in many places in the world and I haven’t heard about anyone falling off it and so from my own logic and experience it appears the earth is flat. This is how evidence goes it seems and I find myself getting frustrated but I do try to understand the logic of disbelief– even in light of evidence. Yes, the earth is round (a sphere actually) and children with language impairment and those with other disabilities that affect language learning CAN (and do) become bilingual. No, they do not become MORE delayed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Normal “Delayed” Bilingual Vocabulary Acquisition

Bilingual children, whether they’re sequential or simultaneous bilinguals have divided input. In their every day experiences. Because of this, they often know some words in their L1 and other words in their L2; some words (but not ALL) they know in both. There are a number of studies that shows this for children at different ages.

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Learning English differently

Young dual language learners with language impairments always amaze me. I love to observe how they negotiate communicative needs, ideas, and understanding of the world with the mind tools they possess. Some of them have maintained their home language; others let it behind. Some have a strong desire to use and live in English while others appear to drift between their home language and English. You can never tell.

I find this variability, these differences, fascinating. What do these children pay attention to when they are learning English? What do they do to learn new words and new ideas? What do they do to make friends, in their emerging English, for example?

This week, I observed a young 3rd grader from a Spanish-speaking family. In the school system, he is considered an English language learner at the Beginning stage of English Language Development. His parents shared that he understands Spanish but he rarely, perhaps never, uses or used Spanish. He may ask for “agua” or “pollo”, but that’s it! Mamá and Papá speak to him in Spanish, he responds in English, and life goes on. The child is also a child with a language learning disability. How does he manage to learn at school, to have fun, to be another kid in the playground?

I was lucky to observe a fascinating interaction the child had with a graduate student I was supervising. My student “read” him a frog story and after the retelling and other comprehension questions, he asked the child what part of the story was the most unbelievable. He was attempting to assess the child’s comprehension skills. My student also asked “Do you know what unbelievable means?”
And this is what the child said: “Yes, awesome!” As my student started to say “No, that is not the right meaning”, the child provided an alternative: “Excellent!” The child, of course, did not explain frogs cannot be pets or frogs do not wave their little “hand” to children. But, of course, unbelievable is many times awesome and excellent!

What do we do with this type of observations as clinicians? What is the child showing us? He has definitely (at least partly) acquired the word “unbelievable”, he also knows that there are synonyms in the language. How is this little interaction aligned with the Beginning stage of English Language Development? He did not appear to use his home language to learn the word “unbelievable”. Perhaps more importantly, how can we acknowledge his insights and guide him forward?

Have you ever asked yourself these questions before?

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Testing Speech in Languages other than English: What’s the Evidence?

There’s a new paper out in AJSLP by Sharynne McLeod and Sarah Verdon.  I think it’s a great resource for those of us who do bilingual assessment. Additionally, I think it’s an excellent example of how to review and select tests to use for diagnostic purposes. Over the last 10 or so years, there’s been a growing emphasis on evidence-based practice in speech-language pathology. We can’t simply use the tests we’ve always used because we are familiar and comfortable with them. We need to be able to justify our selections, and make our selections based on the best available scientific evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

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