Archive for March, 2009

It’s the Wrong Question (Initially): Part 2

In a recent post, I discussed the therapy goal driving the language of intervention and not vice versa.  In Part 2, I provide an example focusing on speech sound disorders and some more explanation.

Suppose you determine that a Spanish-English bilingual child has a speech sound disorder in which the trill-sound in Spanish (in a word such as “perro”–dog) and the r-sound (as in “read”) are misarticulated.  The goal drives the language of intervention.  If you want to remediate the r-sound, you are obligated to do so in English.  Only English has that sound-not Spanish.  The same is true, of course, for the trill sound in Spanish.  You must work on it in Spanish.  Clearly, these are somewhat easy cases and easy decisions.

What happens with a sound such as the s-sound, if it is misarticulated in both languages?  By the way, if a bilingual child has a disorder, it will occur in both languages, not just in one language (a topic for another post).  So, back to the misarticulation of the s-sound in both languages.  The goal (and my bias) is to increase the accuracy of that sound in both languages ultimately, but how should this be done?  At this point, language of intervention is relevant. 

Surprisingly, there are very few studies of treating speech sound disorders in bilingual children (we actually have very few treatment studies in speech-language pathology, but that’s a subject for the future).  Such studies include:

Holm, A., & Dodd, B. (2001). Comparison of cross-language generalisation following speech therapy. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 53, 166-172.

Holm, A., Ozanne, A., & Dodd, B. (1997). Efficacy of intervention for a bilingual child making articulation and phonological errors. International Journal of Bilingualism, 1, 55-69.

Ray, J. (2002). Treating phonological disorders in a multilingual child: A case study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11, 305-315.

Although these studies provide some direction for us, they are all case studies, and thus, we can’t generalize them.  That being said, we do need to find some direction.  The numerous factors that the students raised (and that were also included in the previous post) come into play: home language, parental choice, use, proficiency, dominance, school language, language of the speech-language pathologist, and availability of interpreters/translators. 

You might choose the initial language of intervention based on those, or perhaps other, factors.  You might also deliver treatment in one of the following ways:

  • English first (or Spanish) to some criterion and then in Spanish (or English) to some criterion
  • 1 week in English and 1 in Spanish
  • English (or Spanish) for a set number of sessions and then Spanish (or English) for a set number of sessions

 At this point, we don’t have research evidence that privileges one approach over the other.  However, regardless of which language you start in, it is critical to monitor how that skill is generalized to the other language.  If it generalizes, then theoretically you would not have to work on it in the other language.  If it does not generalize, however, it would be appropriate to target it in the other language as well.  Again, the goal drives the language of intervention with the ultimate outcome of raising a bilingual child who is a competent speaker of both languages.

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It’s the Wrong Question (Initially): Part 1

In a recent class on assessment and treatment of diverse populations, we were discussing treating communication disorders in bilingual children by speech-language pathologists.  In preparation for this discussion, the students had read papers such as:

Kohnert, K., Yim, D., Nett, K., Kan P.F., Duran, L. (2005). Intervention with linguistically diverse preschool children: A focus on developing home language(s). Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 251-263.

Gutiérrez-Clellen, V. (1999). Language choice in intervention with bilingual children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 8, 291-302.

Goldstein, B. (2006).  Clinical implications of research on language development and disorders in bilingual children.  Topics in Language Disorders, 26, 318-334.

I opened the discussion with an open-ended question, “what is the first question you need to ask yourself in planning treatment for bilingual children with communication disorders?”  Each and every student said something like, “What language should I treat in?”  We then discussed how to make that decision.  They raised a number of factors that would be important to know in making that decision such as: home language, parental choice, use, proficiency, dominance, school language, language of the speech-language pathologist, and availability of interpreters/translators.  In discussing this topic for almost an hour, we could not agree on exactly how to answer this question.  I then told them the truth.  There was a reason they couldn’t truly answer the question. 

It’s the wrong question (initially).  Said another way, it’s the right question but at the wrong time. 

I then asked them if the child were monolingual, what would be their first question.  They all said, “What’s the goal?”  Then why, I asked, is that not the same question for bilinguals?  Silence.

Language of intervention is, of course, an important and critical question to answer in working with bilingual children, but I don’t think it’s the first one.  Determining the goal drives the language.  Language of intervention does not signal the goal.

In a future post, I will provide more detail on this notion and give you an example.

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What’s really interesting in development (or not) of bilingualism in the U.S. is who should be educated in dual language programs, what purpose they serve, and when should they begin/end. A number of studies demonstrate that children in dual language programs do well in these programs, they don’t fall behind children who are placed in immersion programs, and they even show some advantages on some testing. An added benefit I’ve read about (but, I don’t have data at hand) is that students who were ELLs are less likely to drop out of school if they attended a dual-language program. That’s a great benefit to our society as a whole.

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How much time?

Ran across this article in the Washington Post on learning a second language. In this story, the report states that children are getting foreign language lessons 30 minutes a week; they contrast this with a program in which children learn by having contact with the foreign language every day across a number of subjects. But, I got to thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Learning a Language Not Spoken by a Community

I was reading today about Irish or Gaelic which is an endangered language (yes, I realize that the story came up because it’s St. Patrick’s day). It struck me that it is a somewhat different bilingual situation from that which we find here in the U.S.– although it might be parallel to taking a foreign language in high school or college. What’s different here is that Irish is required in the Irish school system and that it is Ireland’s official language. Yet, there are fewer and fewer people who speak it. Read the rest of this entry »

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English as an L2 in U.S. Schools

There’s a very nice opinion piece in the NY Times on how to teach children who don’t speak English as a first language. Various perspectives are represented and these are based on available data. While I found the different viewpoint interesting and fact-based, the comments were less so. Comments for the most part were based on people’s own experiences and arm-chair analysis. Not that ones own experiences don’t count. But, an experience is only an n of one. We need facts and careful study based on larger numbers in order to develop policy and guidelines. For children in the process of learning a second language there are a number of factors that impact school success so that a one-size-fits all is probably not feasible. So, what is it we do know?

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Speech Sound Development in Bilinguals: It Depends…

I was recently interviewed for a national parents’ magazine on bilingualism (if it gets published, I’ll provide the reference and link).  The reporter was asking a relatively general question on language development in bilinguals compared to monolinguals.  First, I found it difficult to crystallize a complex issue into, literally, a 7-minute interview.  Second, it reinforced my notion about the myths about language development in bilinguals that still prevail.  When I responded that there is research to show that there are cases in which bilinguals can be more advanced than monolinguals, she interrupted me citing the fact that pediatricians tell parents that development in bilinguals is slower than monolinguals.  I interjected, “yes, but…it depends.”  It depends on the age of the child, how they came to acquire the two languages, how much input they receive, and output they produce, etc.  I know issues about proficiency have been written about on this blog before so I won’t repeat them here.  I will say, however, that we have looked at this issue in terms of speech sound development, and I will write about that in an upcoming post.  Suffice it to say that these variables clearly influence language development in bilinguals.  I tried, without much success, to tell the reporter this.  Anyway, we do know that bilingual children might show language skills that are more advanced, less advanced, or commensurate in comparison to monolinguals.  So, how does this relate to speech sound development in this group of children?

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Spanish word frequency database

This is another question. I guess I need to understand the difference between blogging and posting questions.  It may be that I have very little to contribute to this field other than posing questions and more questions.

Anyway,  Does anyone know of a computer based (aka MRC psycholinguistic database) for Spanish word frequency. There are few published references but none that are easily accessible and comparable to English frequency data bases. Also, if someone knows of French databases that will come in handy too.


Ok more about bilingual aphasia

I do have another poll/question for every one out there:

what is the best/reliable/popular standardized test for assessing bilingual aphasia?

1. Western Aphasia Battery?

2. BDAE?

3. Bilingual aphasia Test?

Does anyone have opinions of why one is better than the other? If you are responding to this post please post your references.

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How proficient is proficient enough?

The Des Moines Register had an article yesterday about a high school senior who refused to take the English language fluency test required for students who learned English as a second language. Her argument was that she was fluent in English and that this was evidenced by the fact that she has nearly a straight A average in courses that are taught exclusively in English. Her parents are immigrants from Laos but she was born in the U.S. While she learned Lao at home, she has likely been exposed to English her entire school career.

So, how long do you need, and when can yearly proficiency testing stop?

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