You Tube Channel

John Consalvi from LinguaHealth interviewed me last summer about the BESA’s development and use. Here is the You Tube channel. In time for Valentine’s Day!

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Combining Tests Results across 2 Languages

We have been working on the question of how to best identify language impairment in bilinguals for a long time. One guideline that has been around for a long time is to test in both languages. In workshops and in presentations I often will repeat TEST IN BOTH LANGUAGES, test in both languages… But, how should results from two languages be combined? Read the rest of this entry »

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Screening for Speech & Language Impairment

Well, it’s that time of year— fall is upon us. At UT, that means new students (and likely their parents) driving down San Antonio (a one way street) in the wrong direction. So far, I’ve spotted one driver doing this and it’s sure to increase as students move in and as classes start in a couple of weeks.

For those of you who work in elementary schools or preschool settings, screening may be part of the fall routine. I remember I worked for a few years in Head Start and we would screen children every fall. My first year (1984) I remember we just made up a screener. The SLPs and I got together and came up with a form and a few questions that we would talk to kids about while we observed their speech and language. Later on as there was less money to spend on things like screening, we relied on teacher referral. I did notice that often teachers made referrals if children had articulation errors but not much else. And many of the 3 year olds were being referred for typical developmental errors. So, we went to a modified screening procedure where we asked teachers to complete a form that focused their attention on aspects of speech and language that might be problematic for given ages. We would sit together to then determine if the child had more typical developmental errors or if a referral was really warranted. It also helped us to pick up on children who might have language-based impairment as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Does language and experience matter in NWR?

It is well known that different languages have different phonological structures. Some have lots of sounds put together in certain ways, other languages have fewer sounds and these go together perhaps in other ways. Comparing Spanish and English is interesting in the US context because Spanish is the second most common language after English. The majority of English language learners in the US speak Spanish as a first language.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Planning for between-language transfer

I don’t think that transfer (between languages) just happens. I think you have to plan for it. So, what kind of things transfer? How can we use what we know about language transfer to maximize transfer between two languages? Last time I talked a little about a study we had recently published in Seminars in Speech and Language s (I encourage you to read the whole issue btw, it’s a very nice set of papers). We saw improvement in both languages in semantics and narratives. Some kids demonstrated gains in morphosyntax but others did not. Read the rest of this entry »

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Intervention in Two Languages

What is the best way to do intervention with bilingual children with LI? It’s not always completely clear. Bilinguals are bilingual because they need both their languages to function in every day activities. With my colleagues, I’ve proposed for a while that in thinking about intervention we need to think about demands that are unique to L1 and L2 and those that are the same. This notion has been illustrated as a Venn diagram to show what overlaps and doesn’t. This figure comes from a chapter in Brian Goldstein’s book (now in it’s 2nd edition) where we postulated the kinds of demands a young child might need to meet in the semantic domain in Spanish vs. English.

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Other important questions are what transfers and what doesn’t? We usually want to maximize learning from one language to another. And we often assume that children can and do transfer knowledge from one language to the other. But how does this happen? In particular, how does this happen in children who have language impairment?

I think we can draw on some of the really excellent work that’s been done in bilingual education and in the area of reading. In addition there is emerging work on the topic of intervention with children who have language impairment.

We recently published a new paper in Seminars in Language Disorders, “Dual language intervention for bilinguals at risk for language impairment” by Lugo-Neris, Bedore, and Peña. In this paper 6 bilingual (Spanish-English) children with risk for language impairment participated in an intervention study. Three of the children received intervention in Spanish first for 12 sessions then 12 in English. The other three received intervention in English first, then in Spanish on the same schedule. The interventions focused on semantics, morphosyntax, and story grammar using a book-reading approach.

Testing in both languages was done at baseline and at the end of the study. Results demonstrated that children made gains in both languages on narratives and in Spanish on semantics. Examination of individual changes by first language of intervention shows some interesting patterns. Children who received intervention in Spanish first demonstrated greater gains in both languages in narratives compared to those who received English first intervention. On the other hand, children who received English first demonstrated greater gains in both languages in semantics while those who received Spanish first showed greater gains in Spanish and limited gains in English. So, it seems that the direction of transfer may be mediated by a combination of the target of intervention and the language of intervention. Of course we need to follow up with larger numbers of children to better understand how language of instruction, the child’s language experiences and the language targets together influence the kinds of gains that can be seen. We’re intrigued and excited by these findings and we hope that these will lead to more careful planning of intervention and selecting the language of intervention to maximize between language transfer.

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About the NPR News piece “Mexican-American Toddlers: Understanding The Achievement Gap”

Something to think about– I haven’t read the paper, but I will and will also comment. The points raised here are important with respect to assessment of children from different cultures (whose culture is likely not represented on the test) and for bilinguals (who are likely also bicultural).

School for Linguists

After reading this piece on the NPR website, as well as the research article it reports on, I felt I had to write to the ombudsman. The text of my letter follows.


Dear Ombudsman:

In the story “Mexican-American Toddlers: Understanding the Achievement Gap” on last week’s All Things Considered, I was disappointed not to hear a response to Bruce Fuller from an expert on bilingual and multicultural education. Including this perspective would have highlighted two significant problems with the piece: first, that Dr. Fuller’s research is framed in a highly anglocentric way, and second, that some of the claims he made on the radio are not supported by his research.

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Bilingual Assessment and Language Dominance: We need to MOVE ON

A long time ago (about 25 to 30 years ago) I learned that bilingual children should be tested in their dominant or home language. The prevailing view then was that if you tested in the weaker language you wouldn’t be letting the child demonstrate what they knew. I think that this part is true. The other part of this perspective is that there wouldn’t be anything in the weaker language that wouldn’t be represented in the stronger language. I don’t believe that this part is true. It’s the 21st century… we know better.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Stuttering and bilingualism: Considerations for differential diagnosis

In 2009, there was an article published in the Archives of Childhood Disease that was subsequently picked up by Science Daily wherein the authors stated, “…if a child uses a language other than English in the home, deferring the time when they learn English reduces the chance of starting to stutter and aids the chances of recovery later in childhood.” This notion of bilingualism posing an increased risk for the development and persistence of stuttering has resulted in many parents questioning whether or not they should delay exposure to a second language until after the pre-school years – arguably the most optimal time period for second language acquisition. I have personally fielded multiple phone calls from parents as well as SLPs of bilingual children and my response to all has been the same – bilingualism is not a risk factor for the development or persistence of stuttering, however, it does appear to be a risk factor for the mis-identification of stuttering in bilingual speakers who are typically fluent.

Why is this the case? There are at least a few critical reasons to consider.

First, we need to recognize that the relatively few studies that have been completed thus far with bilingual persons who stutter are compromised by the lack of specificity with regard to bilingualism. As we detail in Coalson, Pena, and Byrd (2012) across the limited bilingual stuttering studies that presently exist, a large majority fail to adequately describe the participant’s bilingualism – most simply refer to the participant as “bilingual,” with no further details regarding language history, function, use, etc. provided.

Second, we have assumed for quite some time that SLPs do not have to speak the language of the person who stutters in order to be able to accurately identify the presence of stuttering. From this assumption we have further assumed that we can easily identify stuttering in bilingual speakers whether we do or do not speak each of the languages the person speaks. A significant limitation to this line of thinking is the investigation of identification accuracy of stuttering in Spanish-English bilinguals (Lee, Robb, Olmond, & Blomgren, 2014) did not include foils (i.e., speakers who do not stutter) – rather the only requirement was analysis of speakers with confirmed stuttering.

With that in mind, what do we really know about the identification accuracy of stuttering when the SLP also has to listen for the presence of stuttering in a bilingual Spanish-English speaker who does not stutter?

We recently published a study (Byrd, Watson, Bedore, & Mullis, in press) that demonstrates that, as expected, most SLPs are able to accurately identify stuttering in bilingual children with confirmed stuttering. What was unexpected given the assumption that identification of stuttering should be easy even if you do not speak the language, is that most SLPs mis-identified the presence of stuttering in the bilingual Spanish-English speaking children who are typically fluent. When these SLPs were asked why they thought the typically fluent bilingual speaker was a stutterer, almost all referred to the high frequency of speech disfluencies the child produced. A crucial consideration that none of the SLPs acknowledged is that their measure of what they considered to be high is based on guidelines derived from monolingual English speaking children who stutter. This raises the question – can these monolingual guidelines be applied to bilingual speakers?

In another newly published study (Byrd, Bedore, & Ramos, 2015) we demonstrate that the application of these monolingual guidelines to the bilingual speaker would result in the mis-identification of stuttering. In fact, the typically fluent Spanish-English bilingual children whose speech output we analyzed produced stuttering-like disfluencies at rates well above the 3% guideline, with some producing frequencies as high as 38%. These bilingual children who again were not stutterers also produced a mean number of iterations (repetition of the disfluent moment) that was markedly higher than what has been reported in monolingual English-speaking children who stutter. Why are these speakers so disfluent? Consider that the bilingual speaker is navigating many more motor and linguistic decisions than the monolingual speaker – the more potential decisions to make, the higher the likelihood for revisions or what we hear as speech disfluency.

Upon consideration of these findings, how can we differentiate a bilingual child who stutters from a bilingual child who does not?

Additional research is needed but our preliminary data suggest that clinicians should consider the quality not the quantity with regard to the speech disfluencies produced. For example, the production of monosyllabic word repetitions drove the frequency of stuttering-like disfluencies well above the 3% guideline. These bilingual children also produced high rates of sound repetitions and syllable repetitions – all of which are classically considered to be stuttering-like behaviors when produced above 3%. However, none of the typically fluent bilingual children we examined produced atypical prolonging of sounds – this finding suggests that the tension of the disfluent moment may be another differentiating factor. The typically fluent bilingual children we examined produced easy, effortless repetitions – no atypical tension characteristic of stuttering was observed. We also suggest that clinicians consider the rhythm as opposed to the number of iterations – is each repetition rhythmic in nature or is it highly arrhythmic? The latter would be indicative of stuttering. Our data also indicate that parent concern may be a differentiating factor. From a cultural perspective parent concern may be better evaluated as degree of concern rather than presence or absence but regardless among our cohort of bilingual children who do not stutter there was no present or past parent concern of stuttering to any degree.

Together, our data suggest clinicians should take caution when identifying stuttering in bilingual speakers. Even with monolingual speakers, the presence of stuttering should never be confirmed based solely on frequency, but with the frequency rates being so high in bilingual speakers, clinicians need to be extra careful not to be erroneously swayed by numbers that in monolingual speakers would be considered highly atypical as what is atypical for monolinguals may in fact be typical for bilinguals.

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Can Semantics Testing be used to Determine Language Impairment in Bilinguals?

As you know, there is a lack of appropriate standardized instruments to appropriately determine language impairment in bilingual children. We have made strides though in assessment Spanish-English bilinguals, which is the biggest bilingual group of kids here in the US especially in the area of morphosyntax. Work by BedoreRestrepo, Gutierrez-Clellen, demonstrates the kinds of errors that Spanish speaker and bilingual Spanish-English speakers with language impairment make. But, there isn’t quite as much in the area of semantics. Read the rest of this entry »

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