I am a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Associate Dean for Faculty & Academic Affairs at Temple University in Philadelphia. My research focuses on speech sound development and disorders in Spanish-English bilingual children. I also have an interest in least-biased assessment and treatment of bilingual children with speech sound disorders.
I’ve often maintained that eliciting speech samples for phonological analysis (whether single or word or connected speech) does not take that much longer for bilinguals than it does for monolinguals (it is somewhat longer, for sure). What does take longer, however, are the analyses of those samples. Given that there are almost no standardized assessments for phonological skills of bilinguals, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) must complete a set of broad and deep analyses.
These analyses consist of both independent and relational analyses. Independent analyses are those that do not relate the child’s productions to the adult target. For example, the clinician should note the child’s phonetic inventory (arranged by place and manner or articulation) listing all the sounds that the child produces whether it’s produced correctly or not. So, even is a child produces [t] instead of /k/, the child’s ability to produce [t] should be indicated. After all, for this analysis, it’s what the child can/did do. Other independent analyses might include:
- syllable types (e.g., CV, CVC, etc.)
- syllable shapes (how syllable types combine—CV$CV)
- word length (e.g., number of syllables per word)
Relational analyses are those that compare the child’s production to the adult target and might include:
- Overall consonant accuracy
- Consonant accuracy by sound class
- Vowel accuracy
- Error types using a SODA format: Substitutions, Omissions, Distortions, Additions
- Percentage-of-occurrence of phonological patterns (e.g., final consonant deletion, stopping)
- Contextual effects (where does the error occur—initial position, final position, both?)
- Stimulability (can the child produce the target after a model?)
SLPs are often overwhelmed initially by the number of analyses I suggest, as there are issues of time and efficiency. I understand and appreciate those issues. These analyses should be thought of as a buffet. Choose the ones that are most satisfying to you. However, I believe that completing this array of analyses leads to more reliable and valid diagnoses and link clearly and specifically to intervention targets.
In a recent post, I discussed the therapy goal driving the language of intervention and not vice versa. In Part 2, I provide an example focusing on speech sound disorders and some more explanation.
Suppose you determine that a Spanish-English bilingual child has a speech sound disorder in which the trill-sound in Spanish (in a word such as “perro”–dog) and the r-sound (as in “read”) are misarticulated. The goal drives the language of intervention. If you want to remediate the r-sound, you are obligated to do so in English. Only English has that sound-not Spanish. The same is true, of course, for the trill sound in Spanish. You must work on it in Spanish. Clearly, these are somewhat easy cases and easy decisions.
What happens with a sound such as the s-sound, if it is misarticulated in both languages? By the way, if a bilingual child has a disorder, it will occur in both languages, not just in one language (a topic for another post). So, back to the misarticulation of the s-sound in both languages. The goal (and my bias) is to increase the accuracy of that sound in both languages ultimately, but how should this be done? At this point, language of intervention is relevant.
Surprisingly, there are very few studies of treating speech sound disorders in bilingual children (we actually have very few treatment studies in speech-language pathology, but that’s a subject for the future). Such studies include:
Holm, A., & Dodd, B. (2001). Comparison of cross-language generalisation following speech therapy. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 53, 166-172.
Holm, A., Ozanne, A., & Dodd, B. (1997). Efficacy of intervention for a bilingual child making articulation and phonological errors. International Journal of Bilingualism, 1, 55-69.
Ray, J. (2002). Treating phonological disorders in a multilingual child: A case study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11, 305-315.
Although these studies provide some direction for us, they are all case studies, and thus, we can’t generalize them. That being said, we do need to find some direction. The numerous factors that the students raised (and that were also included in the previous post) come into play: home language, parental choice, use, proficiency, dominance, school language, language of the speech-language pathologist, and availability of interpreters/translators.
You might choose the initial language of intervention based on those, or perhaps other, factors. You might also deliver treatment in one of the following ways:
- English first (or Spanish) to some criterion and then in Spanish (or English) to some criterion
- 1 week in English and 1 in Spanish
- English (or Spanish) for a set number of sessions and then Spanish (or English) for a set number of sessions
At this point, we don’t have research evidence that privileges one approach over the other. However, regardless of which language you start in, it is critical to monitor how that skill is generalized to the other language. If it generalizes, then theoretically you would not have to work on it in the other language. If it does not generalize, however, it would be appropriate to target it in the other language as well. Again, the goal drives the language of intervention with the ultimate outcome of raising a bilingual child who is a competent speaker of both languages.
In a recent class on assessment and treatment of diverse populations, we were discussing treating communication disorders in bilingual children by speech-language pathologists. In preparation for this discussion, the students had read papers such as:
Kohnert, K., Yim, D., Nett, K., Kan P.F., Duran, L. (2005). Intervention with linguistically diverse preschool children: A focus on developing home language(s). Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 251-263.
Gutiérrez-Clellen, V. (1999). Language choice in intervention with bilingual children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 8, 291-302.
Goldstein, B. (2006). Clinical implications of research on language development and disorders in bilingual children. Topics in Language Disorders, 26, 318-334.
I opened the discussion with an open-ended question, “what is the first question you need to ask yourself in planning treatment for bilingual children with communication disorders?” Each and every student said something like, “What language should I treat in?” We then discussed how to make that decision. They raised a number of factors that would be important to know in making that decision such as: home language, parental choice, use, proficiency, dominance, school language, language of the speech-language pathologist, and availability of interpreters/translators. In discussing this topic for almost an hour, we could not agree on exactly how to answer this question. I then told them the truth. There was a reason they couldn’t truly answer the question.
It’s the wrong question (initially). Said another way, it’s the right question but at the wrong time.
I then asked them if the child were monolingual, what would be their first question. They all said, “What’s the goal?” Then why, I asked, is that not the same question for bilinguals? Silence.
Language of intervention is, of course, an important and critical question to answer in working with bilingual children, but I don’t think it’s the first one. Determining the goal drives the language. Language of intervention does not signal the goal.
In a future post, I will provide more detail on this notion and give you an example.
I was recently interviewed for a national parents’ magazine on bilingualism (if it gets published, I’ll provide the reference and link). The reporter was asking a relatively general question on language development in bilinguals compared to monolinguals. First, I found it difficult to crystallize a complex issue into, literally, a 7-minute interview. Second, it reinforced my notion about the myths about language development in bilinguals that still prevail. When I responded that there is research to show that there are cases in which bilinguals can be more advanced than monolinguals, she interrupted me citing the fact that pediatricians tell parents that development in bilinguals is slower than monolinguals. I interjected, “yes, but…it depends.” It depends on the age of the child, how they came to acquire the two languages, how much input they receive, and output they produce, etc. I know issues about proficiency have been written about on this blog before so I won’t repeat them here. I will say, however, that we have looked at this issue in terms of speech sound development, and I will write about that in an upcoming post. Suffice it to say that these variables clearly influence language development in bilinguals. I tried, without much success, to tell the reporter this. Anyway, we do know that bilingual children might show language skills that are more advanced, less advanced, or commensurate in comparison to monolinguals. So, how does this relate to speech sound development in this group of children?