Bilingualism for Children with Disabilities

I have a new paper out that is part of a special issue in the Journal of Communication Disorders. I encourage you to read the whole issue. It is based on an international collaboration where researchers used different methods including interviews, observations, record and policy review to understand current perspectives on bilingualism in children with developmental disabilities. The set of papers is excellent and shows that indeed we as a field have increased and evolved in what we know about bilingualism. Teachers, special educators, parents, and policy makers understand that it is important for children who speak different language at home and at school to be bilingual. There is a growing awareness that bilingualism can be an advantage. This is very good news. For me, I was heartened to know that the message is getting through, that there is a broader awareness, and that there is more attention and effort to putting these ideas into practice.

At the same time, it’s hard to do. We still need to figure out the practicalities of supporting the home and school languages. We need to learn more about what can transfer between languages and how parents and teachers can support and reinforce language learning to best benefit the child. There are many people trying to do what’s best for these kiddos but we need more practical, applicable methods. I talk a little about this and how the knowledge base has increased in my paper. Read it– it’s available through the journal for free till the middle of December, 2016.

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Language Experience and Outcomes

We do know (or I hope we know) that exposure to two languages is not bad for us and it could even be good for us. For kids who are in the process of learning two languages, the challenges that bilingualism poses can be desirable. Yes, learning two languages can be hard, but that’s when we develop those brain muscles (figuratively speaking). What happens as children start school and experience changes in the language they hear? What happens as the demands become greater? Read the rest of this entry »

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Bilingual AND Special Education: YES!

When I was a practicing SLP I remember sitting in IEP meetings and arguing for BOTH speech-language therapy services AND ESL for bilingual or ELL children who had speech and/or language impairment. Often, I would be told that, no, their district POLICY said that we would have to pick that it would be EITHER ESL or SLP services but NOT BOTH! Read the rest of this entry »

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Bilingual Research Needs

I’m at the airport in Washington DC after participating in a workshop at tha NIH on dual language learners. We talked about the state of the art. What’s cool is that there has been so much progress. We know that bilingualism isn’t bad for you and that in fact it could be good for you. We have better ideas about how to diagnose bilinguals with language impairment. At least in some languages. We know about what works for Spanish and English. We have emerging data for Mandarin-English and Vietnamese-English as well as other language pairs. We have an emerging picture about bilingual development in two languages. 

But, there’s still a lot we don’t know. We don’t fully understand how changes in the linguistic environment affect child performance on language measures. We still don’t have a God handle in intervention for bilinguals with langquge impairment.  Do we treat in one language or both? Do we use translanguaging approaches?  

I don’t think we fully understand how bilingualism affects the brain. Nor do we know how the environment shapes the brains of children with language impairment.

We heard about reading disorder and mechanisms associated with dyslexia. Children can and do learn to read in two languages but we don’t really understand how those languages interact and how languages that have different writing systems interact in the bilingual brain. 

Even though we’ve made progress in identification of impairment we don’t do such a great job across languages and at all ages. 

So we know a lot we have a ways to go 

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Easy and Hard Sounds

We have a new paper looking at the relationship between children’s dual-language exposure and age of English acquisition on production of early- middle- and late-acquired sounds. Previous work by Leah Fabiano-Smith & Brian Goldstein shows that children are most accurate on early developing sounds compared to later developing sounds. Further, bilinguals show the same pattern although they may be a little less accurate as a group compared to monolingual English and monolingual Spanish peers. In the current study, we wanted to explore the influence of children’s experience in Spanish and English and how this experience might influence sound production. We were also interested in how parent and teacher ratings lined up with children’s production accuracy given their level of experience in each language. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bilingualism has cognitive benefits unless you are Latinx

This popped up on the habla.lab facebook page today and I shared it there, but I thought I’d share it here too.

GRRRR is of course my first reaction. We’ve talked about this so many times in the past but these myths persist. The one that is currently in vogue is that bilinguals are delayed in both languages (which is basically what this is) but that is not, in fact the case. It depends on the domain and the language being tested (and how it is being tested).

What we find for bilinguals is that often they show what we term “mixed dominance” that is for one domain (e.g., semantics) an individual child will show dominance in one language (e.g., English)– and that is well within normal limits, but in another domain (grammar) they may show dominance in the other language (e.g., Spanish). If you look at only one language they may look delayed, but if you look at the stronger language in each domain they do not (we developed the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment to derive a language composite based on the strongest performance by domain).

I think that this happens also when you test groups of bilinguals, average scores are lower than average in each language (AS A GROUP), but if you look at the HIGHER language, individual children are performing well. Actually, they may be performing better because they know MORE (they know the vocabulary and grammar and discourse style of at least TWO languages)== that’s more not less.

The Educational Linguist

A few years ago I was talking with an assistant principal of a bilingual school. He cited research about the cognitive benefits of bilingualism as a primary rationale for his school’s bilingual approach. Yet, he also lamented the fact that many of the Latinx students at his school were “lost in translation” in that they didn’t have full competency in Spanish or English. I was left wondering how it was possible for bilingualism to be positioned as leading to cognitive benefits while actual bilingual children were positioned as linguistically deficient.

This deficit perspective of the bilingualism of Latinx students is certainly not new, though its framing has changed over time. Prior to the 1960s researchers argued that bilingualism led to cognitive deficiencies. These alleged cognitive deficiencies were used to explain the low IQ scores of Latinx students. The basic argument was that bilingualism confused Latinx students and inhibited their cognitive development.

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Bilingual Symposium

On Monday, we will have three guest speakers: Ellen Bialystok, Karen Emmorey, and Claude Goldenberg at our Bilingual Symposium here at UT hosted by the Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation and the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, UT Austin. I know that you all can’t drop everything and come to Austin on Monday morning, but you can watch it livestream. Isn’t technology great!? I think this is a real advantage of being at the Moody College of Communication. Hope you can join us.

Update: you can view the 3 sessions on the HABLA lab youtube channel.

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Flashback!

I haven’t posted for a while, things have been pretty busy finishing up a project and starting another, applying for grant money so that we can pay for proposed projects and so on. But, today I got a message from a bilingual SLP who works in early intervention. She had some concerns about some decisions and procedures being made by the local school district. She was working to do an assessment of a 3-year old child who had approximately 10 words in his or her vocabulary. Now most of us would see this as strong evidence of a language delay or impairment. But, what if the child’s first language is not English?

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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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