Bilingualism is finally being understood as what it is: a typical, positive and enriching form of living and of communicating in the United States. That is, an asset rather than a deficit. In many cities, dual language programs are flourishing and parents from multiple backgrounds are showing a commitment to bilingual language and literacy development. This is great news; however, there are still some concerns about bilingual education and bilingual children with language disorders. Are these children able to learn in a dual language classroom? Will they feel overwhelmed and confused? Will they manage to learn English? What should we recommend their parents?
We can now make some recommendations based on recent research conducted with Latino Spanish-speaking preschoolers with language impairment (Gutierrez-Clellen et al., 2012; Restrepo et al., 2013; Simon-Cereijido et al., 2013). And the recommendation is definitely bilingual! We found that the Spanish-speaking children with language disorders learned new English words and increased the length of their English phrases at a faster rate from interventions in Spanish and English, rather than in English only. Moreover, they also showed gains in Spanish.
In a separate study, we collaborated with Head Start teachers who taught our lessons in small groups to bilingual children with and without language impairment (Simon-Cereijido & Gutierrez-Clellen, 2014). All of the children, regardless of ability, made more progress than the bilingual children who did not receive the lessons and who were instructed in English only. Thus, a bilingual approach proved to be more beneficial than an English only approach for the children with language impairment.
This intense vocabulary and oral language intervention was developed following quality preschool evidence-based practices combined with a bilingual approach. Units of four 30-minute lessons were designed around bilingual picture books and every unit introduced the storybook, the new words, and the games in Spanish, the strong language of these children. The children, then, were ready to listen to the same information in English the following day. Days 3 and 4 alternated the languages. We explicitly designed several hands-on activities to repeatedly teach new, less frequent vocabulary (a weakness found in a great number of typical and atypical Latino children). We also designed “Talk and Play” games to facilitate the production of longer utterances. The “Talk and Play” activities used themes from the storybooks, familiar words, and a few toys that would allow the children to take “speaking” risks in a playful environment.
There is still much more to figure out about interventions and programs for bilingual children with language disorders. However, we do know more than before, and we should feel more and more confident to support bilingualism at home and at school.
Gutierrez-Clellen et al., 2012
Restrepo et al., 2013
Simon-Cereijido et al., 2013
Simon-Cereijido & Gutierrez-Clellen, 2014