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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  1. #1 by Elizabeth Peña on March 29, 2009 - 12:11 pm

    This is a really nice way of focusing on what’s really important in children with language impairment who are bilingual. It’s true that often we get so caught up in the bilingualism itself that the goal(s) for learning become lost or less important. In the semantics area, Ellen Kester & I discuss goal planning for bilingual children with language impairment in a chapter for a book you may recognize: Bilingual Language Development and Disorders in Spanish-English Speakers.

    In that chapter we propose thinking about what words the child needs to use given the demands of their day. This is something that I think we would want to do with monolingual children as well. Once we determine those demands and the semantic concepts needed, we can figure out what language they need to be taught in (again depending on the demand). There may be semantic concepts for which there is a need in the home language or the school language. Other concepts may be need to lexicalized in both languages.

  1. It’s the Wrong Question (Initially): Part 2 « 2 Languages 2 Worlds

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