Do bilinguals have to be tested in both languages? Part 2

The answers are yes, no, maybe, it depends. Last time we talked about “yes.” This time let’s talk about:

  • no

When wouldn’t we test a bilingual in both languages? I can think about a few scenarios. Remember, here I’m referring to testing to identify a possible language or speech impairment. Testing for other purposes may have different answers and logic. But, here are a couple of times I think testing in both languages isn’t necessary:

  • the child performs within normal limits in one language (often the school language which is the 2nd language)
  • the child has been using the second language for a few years, all their schooling is in the second language, and most of their home and school exposure is in the second language
  • the child has just started to learn a second language within the last year (you probably can get away with just testing them in the first language ) and most of their exposure is in the first language

So, let’s expand on these:

  • the child performs within normal limits in one language (often the school language which is the 2nd language)

If a child has a language impairment or speech impairment they are going to have it in both of their languages. So, if you test the child in one of their languages and they perform within normal limits for monolingual children then you have the information that you need to say that there is no impairment. They may be in the process of losing one of their languages, and may make errors in that language. Or they may be in the process of learning their second language and may make errors. But, if one of their languages comes out as normal, you are DONE! You don’t need to go around fishing for impairment in the other language– even if they score low in that language, they won’t qualify because they need to be below in both and they’re not. You have plenty to do, kids waiting for assessment and treatment, stop testing and get to the rest of your backlog.

If the question is what do their know in L1 vs. L2– then that’s another question. You would need to test in both, but if the question is about diagnostic decision making you have enough information.

We do have a pair of studies that came out last year focused on classification accuracy for bilinguals and monolinguals. We show that  yes, for a group of bilingual kids, if you test only in one language you can misclassify. In the other study we look at children in both their languages. Children with language impairment scored below the empirical cut point in BOTH their languages. Those with typical development scored above the cutpoint in at least one, and sometimes both their languages. So, when we test in one language and they are above the cutpoint they we know they’re typical. If we test in one language and they are below the cutpoint we cannot know for sure. And that’s when we do need to test in the other language.

  • the child has been using the second language for a few years, all their schooling is in the second language, and most of their home and school exposure is in the second language

It is not atypical that in a place where one language is the majority language that kids who were started out in kindergarten knowing only a home language would shift to using the majority language over time. Kohnert and colleagues demonstrate this in a cross-sectional sample of Spanish-English bilinguals. The youngest children tended to be Spanish dominant, by middle childhood (around 9 to 13 years) they were fairly balanced (but started responding faster in English compared to Spanish), and by 10-15 (depending on the task) they were English dominant.

This of course is based on individual child language history and this is why it’s important to ask careful questions about language use and exposure at home and school It’s important to get a history of language use as well. But, if they are in middle school, use mainly English, and have been for some time, They have likely shifted over to English dominance. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take their home language into account. They may still show L1 influences on the L2, and they may still have easier access to some words in the L1 compared to the L2. But, if you take those points into account (and you don’t mark differences as errors) I think you can get a pretty accurate picture from only looking at the L2.

  • the child has just started to learn a second language within the last year (you probably can get away with just testing them in the first language ) and most of their exposure is in the first language

I hope this is a no brainer. But, while I think very very often we DO need to test kids in both language, sometimes we can test in one. This would be a profile of a child who is clearly dominant in their home language, and has been barely exposed to an L2. Testing in the home language will likely tell you most of what you need to know. Like the example above, you may need to take into account knowledge they they are learning in the L2 through schooling, but you can likely test mainly in the L1.

Testing mainly in one language though doesn’t mean monolingual testing. But the language of assessment would be mainly one language, while taking L1 <-> L2 mutual influences into account. Conceptual scoring will be important here, as will cultural considerations. But, in some cases it may not be necessary to completely test in both languages.

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  1. #1 by Elizabeth D. Peña on January 30, 2018 - 1:19 pm

    Reblogged this on HABLA Lab.

  2. #2 by Nahar Albudoor on February 9, 2018 - 4:37 pm

    Interesting!

  3. #3 by gerald brand on October 25, 2018 - 8:54 pm

    Great! very nice.

    Security Guards Allentown

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