Elizabeth D. Peña
I'm a professor of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Texas at Austin. I study bilingualism in children mainly, but have branched out to look at bilingualism in young adults. In the area of bilingualism I'm mainly interested in how people who have exposure to more than one language lexicalize, organize, and access words in each of their languages and how exposure to one language influences performance in the other language. I'm also interested in measurement and assessment practices. Here, my focus is on developing ways to determine language differences vs. language disorders.
At least harder than I’d thought. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2017
I love the Equality for All quote that says: “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you: It’s not pie.” You can get a t-shirt that says just that. And, it got me thinking about bilingualism. Grosjean uses a beautiful analogy of the hurdler as representing the bilingual, with sprinters and high jumpers representing monolinguals. The hurdler incorporates both of these but isn’t exactly like either one. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been asked this question a couple of times now, the most recent was a few days ago, so I thought I’d write about it here. The bottom line is YES, WITH TRAINING. But, let me explain. Read the rest of this entry »
A question that often comes up about our research is how to apply it clinically. Much of our work is motivated by clinical questions and ultimately we aim to have some clinical solutions. It’s hard sometimes to move directly from research to application. Sometimes the clinical questions we pose have no or very little research available to move to the next step. So, we have to step back and do the more basic descriptive work to understand the nature of bilingualism and of bilingual impairment before we can then more forward again to answer questions about assessment and treatment. Now that we’ve done more work that has implications for assessment and have the BESA available for clinicians we can start to think about more direct application.
I wrote a year ago that we can get the most accurate indicator of language impairment on the BESA when we combine the best language across domains. So, we might combine Spanish morphosyntax with English semantics for a language composite. But, how do you write up results to incorporate into a report?
In a fairly recent paper, we provide some illustrations of how to use test information to make clinical decisions using the BESA. We go through the parent and teacher interview we use to determine possible concern about speech and language ability in each language and how we determine language use and exposure. Finally, we demonstrate how we combine and compare Spanish and English performance across each domain to determine language impairment. I hope these help in writing up your clinical reports.
I have a new paper out that is part of a special issue in the Journal of Communication Disorders. I encourage you to read the whole issue. It is based on an international collaboration where researchers used different methods including interviews, observations, record and policy review to understand current perspectives on bilingualism in children with developmental disabilities. The set of papers is excellent and shows that indeed we as a field have increased and evolved in what we know about bilingualism. Teachers, special educators, parents, and policy makers understand that it is important for children who speak different language at home and at school to be bilingual. There is a growing awareness that bilingualism can be an advantage. This is very good news. For me, I was heartened to know that the message is getting through, that there is a broader awareness, and that there is more attention and effort to putting these ideas into practice.
At the same time, it’s hard to do. We still need to figure out the practicalities of supporting the home and school languages. We need to learn more about what can transfer between languages and how parents and teachers can support and reinforce language learning to best benefit the child. There are many people trying to do what’s best for these kiddos but we need more practical, applicable methods. I talk a little about this and how the knowledge base has increased in my paper. Read it– it’s available through the journal for free till the middle of December, 2016.
We do know (or I hope we know) that exposure to two languages is not bad for us and it could even be good for us. For kids who are in the process of learning two languages, the challenges that bilingualism poses can be desirable. Yes, learning two languages can be hard, but that’s when we develop those brain muscles (figuratively speaking). What happens as children start school and experience changes in the language they hear? What happens as the demands become greater? Read the rest of this entry »
When I was a practicing SLP I remember sitting in IEP meetings and arguing for BOTH speech-language therapy services AND ESL for bilingual or ELL children who had speech and/or language impairment. Often, I would be told that, no, their district POLICY said that we would have to pick that it would be EITHER ESL or SLP services but NOT BOTH! Read the rest of this entry »
I’m at the airport in Washington DC after participating in a workshop at tha NIH on dual language learners. We talked about the state of the art. What’s cool is that there has been so much progress. We know that bilingualism isn’t bad for you and that in fact it could be good for you. We have better ideas about how to diagnose bilinguals with language impairment. At least in some languages. We know about what works for Spanish and English. We have emerging data for Mandarin-English and Vietnamese-English as well as other language pairs. We have an emerging picture about bilingual development in two languages.
But, there’s still a lot we don’t know. We don’t fully understand how changes in the linguistic environment affect child performance on language measures. We still don’t have a God handle in intervention for bilinguals with langquge impairment. Do we treat in one language or both? Do we use translanguaging approaches?
I don’t think we fully understand how bilingualism affects the brain. Nor do we know how the environment shapes the brains of children with language impairment.
We heard about reading disorder and mechanisms associated with dyslexia. Children can and do learn to read in two languages but we don’t really understand how those languages interact and how languages that have different writing systems interact in the bilingual brain.
Even though we’ve made progress in identification of impairment we don’t do such a great job across languages and at all ages.
So we know a lot we have a ways to go
We have a new paper looking at the relationship between children’s dual-language exposure and age of English acquisition on production of early- middle- and late-acquired sounds. Previous work by Leah Fabiano-Smith & Brian Goldstein shows that children are most accurate on early developing sounds compared to later developing sounds. Further, bilinguals show the same pattern although they may be a little less accurate as a group compared to monolingual English and monolingual Spanish peers. In the current study, we wanted to explore the influence of children’s experience in Spanish and English and how this experience might influence sound production. We were also interested in how parent and teacher ratings lined up with children’s production accuracy given their level of experience in each language. Read the rest of this entry »
This popped up on the habla.lab facebook page today and I shared it there, but I thought I’d share it here too.
GRRRR is of course my first reaction. We’ve talked about this so many times in the past but these myths persist. The one that is currently in vogue is that bilinguals are delayed in both languages (which is basically what this is) but that is not, in fact the case. It depends on the domain and the language being tested (and how it is being tested).
What we find for bilinguals is that often they show what we term “mixed dominance” that is for one domain (e.g., semantics) an individual child will show dominance in one language (e.g., English)– and that is well within normal limits, but in another domain (grammar) they may show dominance in the other language (e.g., Spanish). If you look at only one language they may look delayed, but if you look at the stronger language in each domain they do not (we developed the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment to derive a language composite based on the strongest performance by domain).
I think that this happens also when you test groups of bilinguals, average scores are lower than average in each language (AS A GROUP), but if you look at the HIGHER language, individual children are performing well. Actually, they may be performing better because they know MORE (they know the vocabulary and grammar and discourse style of at least TWO languages)== that’s more not less.
A few years ago I was talking with an assistant principal of a bilingual school. He cited research about the cognitive benefits of bilingualism as a primary rationale for his school’s bilingual approach. Yet, he also lamented the fact that many of the Latinx students at his school were “lost in translation” in that they didn’t have full competency in Spanish or English. I was left wondering how it was possible for bilingualism to be positioned as leading to cognitive benefits while actual bilingual children were positioned as linguistically deficient.
This deficit perspective of the bilingualism of Latinx students is certainly not new, though its framing has changed over time. Prior to the 1960s researchers argued that bilingualism led to cognitive deficiencies. These alleged cognitive deficiencies were used to explain the low IQ scores of Latinx students. The basic argument was that bilingualism confused Latinx students and inhibited their cognitive development.
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