In our role as speech language pathologists, we often rely on reports from teachers and from parents to inform our clinical decisions. When the child is bilingual, in addition to the usual questions about development, language milestones, and language use/demands, we need to find out what language(s) is used and when. Part of our training is to learn to incorporate this information into our clinical decisions. We learn that parents know their child best, they are with them the most. Teachers also develop unique insights to the children in their classroom and they see them every day. SLPs usually only get a couple of hours at most in which to make these decisions and so must rely on information we get from parents and teachers. At the same time though, sometimes this information is suspect. I’m not sure why. Most studies comparing parent and professional observations of milestones such as language show that parents are very accurate. But, they aren’t quite as accurate in recalling developmental information and are less accurate over time. Studies of bilingual children show that parents can accurately make judgements about language ability and language dominance.
In our new paper (Bedore, Peña, Joyner & Macken, 2010) we explored what both parents and teachers of young children (4- and 5-year olds) reported about their level of bilingualism and ability. We compared these judgements to direct testing of children’s morphosyntax and semantics performance in Spanish and English.
So, what did we find? Well, teacher and parent judgements of language dominance and language ability both correlated with children’s performance. But, parents and teachers paid attention to different things. Parents tended to pay attention to semantics rather than morphosyntax. We think that it’s because they focus on communication and meaning. Teachers tended to focus more on morphosyntax than semantics. We proposed in the paper that it may be that teachers are more tuned into academic aspects of language use and communication. We also found that teachers (even bilingual teachers) tended to focus more on English than the child’s home language.
The bottom line is that parents and teachers can provide important information as we make clinical decisions about bilingual children with language impairment. We need to learn what to ask and how to interpret the information they provide.