Archive for January, 2015

Can Semantics Testing be used to Determine Language Impairment in Bilinguals?

As you know, there is a lack of appropriate standardized instruments to appropriately determine language impairment in bilingual children. We have made strides though in assessment Spanish-English bilinguals, which is the biggest bilingual group of kids here in the US especially in the area of morphosyntax. Work by BedoreRestrepo, Gutierrez-Clellen, demonstrates the kinds of errors that Spanish speaker and bilingual Spanish-English speakers with language impairment make. But, there isn’t quite as much in the area of semantics. Read the rest of this entry »

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Too bad 30 years ago

I participated in a twitter chat on Latino Early Childhood with @LatinoUSA and @spanglishbaby to talk #bilingualkids. Most participants, as expected, were bilingual Spanish-English speakers, proud to raise their children in a supporting bilingual environment. They emphasized the advantages of bilingualism: cognitive and socio-emotional skills, tolerance and openness, traditions and family. Plus the obvious: speaking two languages!
I was also happy to read that language use and opportunities to hear and speak Spanish seriously concern parents. They want to make sure they “resist” the period in which their own children appear to prefer English. They shared some nice anecdotes about children changing their minds as they get older, children becoming proud of their bilingualism. One mom said “¡No hay que tirar la toalla!”
Interestingly, one participant sent this tweet:
Curious to hear medical opinions. My cousin was told her son was beginning to stutter speaking both.
9:53 AM – 21 Jan 2015
I was surprised by, first, the desire to hear a medical opinion, and, second, by the hypothesis that bilingualism would cause a speech impairment. Other participants referred to bilingual research in their comments. This participant, however, wanted to hear from a medical doctor. Why would he assume a medical doctor knows more about bilingual development than experts? In addition, I sound naïve, but this is the first time I clearly read a worrisome admonition of bilingualism. I twitted this person to consult with a BILINGUAL speech-language pathologist. He responded the following:
Too bad 30 years ago that was the medical opinion. It was ridiculous.
10:53 AM – 21 Jan 2015
My heart sank. I cannot imagine how his cousin felt when she heard that doctor’s comment. I am so grateful to be part of a community and a profession that is changing, becoming more tolerant, and moving forward.

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Are dominance and proficiency the same?

This is a question that comes up from time to time, and I see some people using it interchangeably, I see this in the scientific literature and I see it in every day conversations and practice. So, what gives?

Let’s first look at the dictionary definitions:

Dominant: (from the learners dictionary by Merriam-Webster)

[more dominant; most dominant]

: more important, powerful, or successful than most or all others

  • The company is now dominant in the market

most common

  •  The dominant [=prevailing] language/religion of the country

biology : causing or relating to a characteristic or condition that a child will have if one of the child’s parents has it

  • dominant genes

Proficient: (also from the learners dictionary)

[more proficient; most proficient]

 : good at doing something : skillful

  • proficient reader
  • He has become very proficient at computer programming.
  • She is proficient in two foreign languages.

So, these aren’t exactly the same. In the work that I have done in language and language impairment, my collaborators and I try to distinguish between the two. Why does it matter?

I think especially in research and clinical work in language impairment it’s important to separate out the two. Children with typical development may demonstrate dominance in one language or another (or both), and at the same time they may have high levels of proficiency in both their languages. That is, they can be highly proficient users of both their languages at yet have MORE dominance in one of their languages.

In contrast children with language impairment demonstrate low proficiency in both their languages (not in every domain of course, they may show relative strengths in some aspects of language). At the same time they can be stronger (within their own performance) in their first language or in their second language or in both of their languages.

I think we can get into trouble when we assume that low proficiency in one language means dominance in the other. It doesn’t. We CAN have kids who show low proficiency in L1 and high proficiency in L2 and are dominant in L2. We can also have kids who show low proficiency in both and have dominance in only one language. We can have those who have high proficiency in both and be more dominance in one. The danger with conflating the two terms (and therefore measures) is that it could lead to bad decisions.

If the assumption is that a child with low proficiency in one language is therefore dominant in the other, it could lead to delaying of services (RTI, speech or language intervention, reading intervention) if they have a true impairment. It might be assumed that low proficiency in one  language equals low proficiency overall, and this assumption might lead to a diagnosis of a language impairment even if the child actually does NOT have an impairment (and is actually highly proficient in the other language). If a child is not very proficient in either language, this may lead people to say something like, they have no language (I totally hate that, unless they are in a coma, I don’t know how this could be). This assumption might lead to giving parents suggestions like only using one language because the child has incomplete language acquisition in both. Like monolingualism would be the cure for language impairment. UGH!

So, don’t get rid of one term. We need both proficiency (to measure how good children are at each language) and dominance (to determine which is the stronger of the two languages for a given bilingual child).

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On Internationally Adopted Children

Came across this blog post on speech/language referrals of children who are adopted internationally. Are these kids bilingual? Do we need to evaluate their first language?

http://www.smartspeechtherapy.com/dear-school-professionals-please-be-aware-of-this/

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