What is the best way to do intervention with bilingual children with LI? It’s not always completely clear. Bilinguals are bilingual because they need both their languages to function in every day activities. With my colleagues, I’ve proposed for a while that in thinking about intervention we need to think about demands that are unique to L1 and L2 and those that are the same. This notion has been illustrated as a Venn diagram to show what overlaps and doesn’t. This figure comes from a chapter in Brian Goldstein’s book (now in it’s 2nd edition) where we postulated the kinds of demands a young child might need to meet in the semantic domain in Spanish vs. English.
Other important questions are what transfers and what doesn’t? We usually want to maximize learning from one language to another. And we often assume that children can and do transfer knowledge from one language to the other. But how does this happen? In particular, how does this happen in children who have language impairment?
I think we can draw on some of the really excellent work that’s been done in bilingual education and in the area of reading. In addition there is emerging work on the topic of intervention with children who have language impairment.
We recently published a new paper in Seminars in Language Disorders, “Dual language intervention for bilinguals at risk for language impairment” by Lugo-Neris, Bedore, and Peña. In this paper 6 bilingual (Spanish-English) children with risk for language impairment participated in an intervention study. Three of the children received intervention in Spanish first for 12 sessions then 12 in English. The other three received intervention in English first, then in Spanish on the same schedule. The interventions focused on semantics, morphosyntax, and story grammar using a book-reading approach.
Testing in both languages was done at baseline and at the end of the study. Results demonstrated that children made gains in both languages on narratives and in Spanish on semantics. Examination of individual changes by first language of intervention shows some interesting patterns. Children who received intervention in Spanish first demonstrated greater gains in both languages in narratives compared to those who received English first intervention. On the other hand, children who received English first demonstrated greater gains in both languages in semantics while those who received Spanish first showed greater gains in Spanish and limited gains in English. So, it seems that the direction of transfer may be mediated by a combination of the target of intervention and the language of intervention. Of course we need to follow up with larger numbers of children to better understand how language of instruction, the child’s language experiences and the language targets together influence the kinds of gains that can be seen. We’re intrigued and excited by these findings and we hope that these will lead to more careful planning of intervention and selecting the language of intervention to maximize between language transfer.