Working with children who have language impairment: Don’t forget the “glue”

While acquiring language, children show a tendency to use function words with a very high frequency compared to content words. These high frequency words are referred to as core vocabulary words, a term frequently used in AAC. These include pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, articles, auxiliary verbs, modals, indefinites, as well as content words including adverbs, but few nouns or verbs. Function words provide speakers a bridge to combine words to increase their utterance length. You can think of these as the glue that binds together grammar and vocabulary. This “glue” is important and are used across different kinds of contexts including conversations and story-telling. They are used across many contents including work, school and home.

We were interested in understanding how children with language impairment (LI) use these core vocabulary words. We wanted to know which core words they used; if patterns were different in each language; and if children with language impairment used these same core words as often as those with typical development.

So, in a recent longitudinal study we looked at use of core vocabulary words in Spanish-English bilingual children with and without LI. We analyzed 30 core vocabulary words in Spanish and English narrative samples of children in kindergarten and again in first grade. Children with LI produced fewer core vocabulary words and used them less frequently compared to their typically developing (TD) peers. This difference was more pronounced in first grade.

Graphical abstract_revised
One lesson we can draw from this is that children with LI have much more sparse vocabulary as compared to their typical peers consistent with previous findings. What was unexpected was that they also use core words much less often than their TD peers. While this does not mean that intervention should focus on, for example, the articles “the” “la” or “el” in therapy. Or at least not exclusively. But, it is important to think about how these core vocabulary words supports learning of the content words (such as nouns). It may be important to teach content words in phrases rather than in isolation so that the core words are reinforced. These can also serve as “frames” to teach other content words. As children progress we can continue to help them to link together learned phrases into sentences and conversation. So, as you work with children with language impairment, don’t forget about the glue that holds it all together.

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Do bilinguals have to be tested in both languages? Part 2

The answers are yes, no, maybe, it depends. Last time we talked about “yes.” This time let’s talk about:

  • no

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Do bilinguals have to be tested in both languages?

Yes, no, maybe, it depends.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Doing the right thing

I belong to a Facebook group SLPs for Evidence Based Practice. There is frequent discussion of what works and what doesn’t in intervention and in assessment. My work has often focused on assessment and assessment practices. And, I have to say that it is frustrating to find that something does (or doesn’t) work but that clinical practices take so long to change. So, I wonder what is our obligation in the field to be aware of the evidence? And what is our obligation to make changes in our practices? Read the rest of this entry »

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Changes

Well, there’s been a number of changes in my life professionally, I don’t really know where to begin. But, I guess I’ll tell you about a couple of things.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Is This Student a Translator? How the Hidden Skills of Bilingual Students Promote Literacy

Translating from English to a home language is an everyday skill in the lives of many bilingual children whose parents speak little English. Because translating often does not require professional training or numerous years of schooling, children who translate have not received the recognition for the immensely important work that they do for the good of their families. Researchers have coined a term called “language brokering” to capture the essence of what children translators do- translating, mediating, interpreting, and negotiating for their loved ones in schools, banks, hospitals, government offices, restaurants, and other diverse settings. Although there are concerns about children being language brokers for their parents, there may be hidden strengths that we (researchers, practitioners, and policy makers) aren’t fully considering. Read the rest of this entry »

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Prepositions are hard for ELLs

At least harder than I’d thought.  Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s Not Cake

I love the Equality for All quote that says: “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you: It’s not pie.” You can get a t-shirt that says just that. And, it got me thinking about bilingualism. Grosjean uses a beautiful analogy of the hurdler as representing the bilingual, with sprinters and high jumpers representing monolinguals. The hurdler incorporates both of these but isn’t exactly like either one.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Can I give the BESA with an Assistant if I don’t Speak Spanish?

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times now, the most recent was a few days ago, so I thought I’d write about it here. The bottom line is YES, WITH TRAINING. But, let me explain. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reporting Bilingual Results

A question that often comes up about our research is how to apply it clinically. Much of our work is motivated by clinical questions and ultimately we aim to have some clinical solutions. It’s hard sometimes to move directly from research to application. Sometimes the clinical questions we pose have no or very little research available to move to the next step. So, we have to step back and do the more basic descriptive work to understand the nature of bilingualism and of bilingual impairment before we can then more forward again to answer questions about assessment and treatment. Now that we’ve done more work that has implications for assessment and have the BESA available for clinicians we can start to think about more direct application.

I wrote a year ago that we can get the most accurate indicator of language impairment on the BESA when we combine the best language across domains. So, we might combine Spanish morphosyntax with English semantics for a language composite. But, how do you write up results to incorporate into a report?

In a fairly recent paper, we provide some illustrations of how to use test information to make clinical decisions using the BESA. We go through the parent and teacher interview we use to determine possible concern about speech and language ability in each language and how we determine language use and exposure. Finally, we demonstrate how we combine and compare Spanish and English performance across each domain to determine language impairment. I hope these help in writing up your clinical reports.

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