Bilinguals and their Houses

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!

Thanks!

Ashley Adams, PhD, CCC-SLP

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So you want to get a Ph.D.

Some thoughts about getting a Ph.D.

HABLA Lab

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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Translanguaging

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.

 

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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.

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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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