When we test bilingual children we need to be able to do so in both of their languages. We can to look at speech and language in each of their two languages and we use this information to determine if their language production is like that of their typical (bilingual peers).
In the area of lexical-semantics we know that children who have exposure to two languages often show patterns of lexical knowledge consistent with their divided exposure. They may know home words in the home language and school words in the second language. It makes it difficult to test in only one language, but how do we take account of both their languages?
One of the observations we’ve made in many years of testing bilingual kids is that it is difficult at times for them to switch between languages– especially when they’ve been using English in diagnostics. This doesn’t mean of course that kids don’t codeswitch, they do and they do so during testing, but switching between languages on demand is hard.
Cognates are really interesting words that share meaning and sound the same across languages. Languages that share the same roots also have a large number of cognates because of their shared histories. Spanish and English share a large number of cognates.
We’ve studied cognate recognition in young children. In that study of kindergarten and first grade children, we found that Spanish dominant children and English dominant children scored similarly on a receptive vocabulary test given in English. But, they showed different patterns of response. Those who were Spanish dominant were more likely to know the cognates– even those that were above their age level. English dominant kids tended to know non-cognates. So, consistent with other studies, we found a cognate advantage for Spanish-speaking children learning English as a second language. In a recent study, we were interested in whether bilingual children with DLD would show a similar cognate advantage. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve (as a field) have known for about 20 years that single word vocabulary tests whether they are receptive or expressive tests are poor indicators of developmental language disorders (DLD). At the same time, these tests are very often used by SLPs as part of a diagnostic. They are easy to give, quick, and highly reliable. It’s hard to make an error in administration or scoring on these tests. But, reliability is not enough (neither are the other reasons). Even if it only takes 5 minutes and the score is a perfect representation of what the child can do it doesn’t mean that a low score indicates impairment or that a high score indicates typical development. As far as domains of language go– children with DLD do pretty well with vocabulary at the single word level. It’s semantics (connections among words) that they have difficulty with. Read the rest of this entry »
I keep hearing these stories and it’s infuriating! There’s no evidence that bilingualism is confusing and no evidence that bilingualism makes developmental language disorder worse so stop it! Read the rest of this entry »
I’m working on a paper that focuses on language dominance, proficiency and exposure. I’ve written about these definitions before. Here, I want to think about how it is we capture this information.
There are a number of really nice surveys and questionnaires that have been developed that help to document this information. These include L1 and L2 age of acquisition; educational history in each language, rating of proficiency in each language. Sometimes this is broken out into speaking, listening, reading and writing. Some questionnaires ask about what language is more proficient, and may ask for what purpose(s) each language is used. This information is designed to get at the question of how language is used and how proficient an individual might be across situations. Read the rest of this entry »
If you are a speech-language pathologist, have you noticed that in recent years there has been some Mandarin-speaking children on your patient list? If you are a parent of a Mandarin-English bilingual child, do you at times worry about your child’s language development? Both of you may wonder: what does a typical language profile look like for US Mandarin-English bilingual children? It may be hard for you to find relevant studies, but luckily we have just published some data to address this question.
We had 21 Mandarin-English bilingual children from the central Texas. Mandarin was their first language as both parents were Mandarin-speaking, and they started learning English later when they started school. We presented a wordless picture book to children and asked them to tell us a complete story. We asked them to tell stories in both languages: Mandarin and English.
In order to tell stories, these children, who were around 7 years old, had to use their all their language skill. This was not an easy task for a child who just entered school because they may not be fluent in one of their languages depending on when they started learning English and whether they used Mandarin at home. The stories really provided us a way to describe children’s language performance. We looked at macrostructure – the global structure of a story. For example, whether the child included main characters in the story, whether there was an event that initiated the story, whether the development and the consequence of the event were stated, and whether the characters had any internal responses corresponding to the event.
We also examined what specific linguistic features were used in each language – microstructure. As you may know, Mandarin and English are very different. One big difference is that English uses affixes (e.g., plural –s, past tense –ed), whereas Mandarin does not. Mandarin has a classifier inserted between a number and a noun when people count objects (e.g., san ZHI qingwa – three ZHI frogs), but English does not. There are many other differences and these are just some examples. In each language, we selected 17 features to present children’s overall microstructure in that language.
Then we compared children’s performance between the two languages on macrostructure and microstructure. We knew that these children at the time of testing listened to and spoke more English than Mandarin daily, so we considered experience in our data computation. After statistically accounting for current language experience, we found that macrostructure was comparable between the two languages. That says if children know that they need to include these key elements into a story, they can do it in both languages. However, we saw a big difference in microstructure, with English significantly better than Mandarin. Children could easily produce many English features, but could not produce most Mandarin features.
Does this relate to their imbalanced cumulative language experience in English and Mandarin? The answer is YES. Age, associated with cumulative language exposure, was only related to macro- and microstructure in English but not Mandarin. Probably, to maintain Mandarin as a heritage language, these bilingual children needed to gain more exposure and to practice Mandarin more often. Another thing we considered was that increased English experience may interfere the growth of Mandarin, as the two languages are typologically distinct.
A caveat I would like to note is that these children were from Texas, and we did not know if these results could apply to children living in other places where Mandarin has stronger community support for use (like New York, California……). We will strive to find the answers for you in our future studies.
If you want to read the publication, here is the link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323641964_Narrative_skills_in_two_languages_of_Mandarin-English_bilingual_children
You know I’m gonna say no. But, it’s important to establish what does happen and to do so with data. After several studies we have enough data to look at this question more carefully with a set of children with developmental language disorder (aka: language impairment; specific language impairment; or primary language impairment) who had varying levels of exposure to Spanish and English. Read the rest of this entry »
At Lourdes Martinez Nieto’s dissertation defense, she was asked about how she would respond to someone concluding that bilingualism is “bad” for kids’ language development because they may have a smaller vocabulary in one of their languages compared to a monolingual in that language. She gave a great analogy about language being like a house. Over lunch celebrating her fantastic presentation and successful defense, we (Lourdes, Beatriz Barragan, Laida Restrepo, and I) added to the analogy and wanted to share it here.
Let’s imagine language is like a house. And vocabulary is like furniture. So, you go to visit the monolingual at her house. She has just one room in her house, but that one room is very well-furnished. There are plenty of sofas and armchairs and tables and lamps (i.e. a nice big vocabulary). Now, when you go visit the bilingual at her house, she has the same square footage but her house is divided into two rooms with fewer pieces of furniture in each room. She had to take her sofas and chairs and tables and lamps and divide them between the two rooms so she could have two comfortable living spaces. (Make sure you think of the two rooms as being connected by a big, open hallway because we don’t want to suggest that there isn’t an easy flow of information between the two languages in a bilingual brain).
Now, let’s apply this same analogy to language assessment. One way you could measure the house is how well each room is furnished. It’s somewhat arbitrary to use just that one measure (i.e. vocabulary size) to decide on the quality of one’s house (i.e. language ability), but it could be done. If you used just that measure, the monolingual has a better house because her single room has more furniture. But by doing that, you completely ignore that the bilingual has two different rooms where she can comfortably entertain guests and has more flexibility about which room she uses for different activities. A bilingual can communicate with more people!
As SLPs and language researchers, let’s remember that there are other ways to measure houses than looking at just the furniture in a single room. Using monolingual vocabulary size as the gold standard and then claiming that any child who doesn’t meet that standard is somehow behind or less able just doesn’t make sense. Let’s not forget to take into account how many rooms are in the house.
If you have an idea about how to add to the analogy, comment below!
Ashley Adams, PhD, CCC-SLP
Some thoughts about getting a Ph.D.
It’s that time of year when students are making decisions about where they are going to go for graduate school and others are thinking of applying to graduate programs in the next round this coming fall. In CSD there is a severe shortage of new Ph.D.s to take on faculty positions. So for me it’s important to recruit and train future CSD faculty. I’ve worked with a number of students who have completed the degree and have gone on to successful careers as faculty and leaders in the profession. As you may know I’m now at the University of California, Irvine and Lisa Bedore is moving to Temple University. We both remain committed to helping to train the next generation of Ph.D.s in the field. Below, I give some of my thoughts about the Ph.D. and finding a program that is right for you and your interests.
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Recently, I participated in a roundtable discussion through TCU on the topic of dynamic assessment and translanguaging. My topic was dynamic assessment. But, I was really struck by the notion of translanguaging.
It was an interesting discussion about how to provide support to children in both languages and allow them to have access to both of their languages to maximize opportunities for language interaction. You might want to read more about translanguaging using the link above and also here. I think that translanguaging is a powerful way to support linguistic development and access in bilingual youth.