Gabriela Simon-Cereijido is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Disorders department at California State University, Los Angeles.
Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2015
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.
Young dual language learners with language impairments always amaze me. I love to observe how they negotiate communicative needs, ideas, and understanding of the world with the mind tools they possess. Some of them have maintained their home language; others let it behind. Some have a strong desire to use and live in English while others appear to drift between their home language and English. You can never tell.
I find this variability, these differences, fascinating. What do these children pay attention to when they are learning English? What do they do to learn new words and new ideas? What do they do to make friends, in their emerging English, for example?
This week, I observed a young 3rd grader from a Spanish-speaking family. In the school system, he is considered an English language learner at the Beginning stage of English Language Development. His parents shared that he understands Spanish but he rarely, perhaps never, uses or used Spanish. He may ask for “agua” or “pollo”, but that’s it! Mamá and Papá speak to him in Spanish, he responds in English, and life goes on. The child is also a child with a language learning disability. How does he manage to learn at school, to have fun, to be another kid in the playground?
I was lucky to observe a fascinating interaction the child had with a graduate student I was supervising. My student “read” him a frog story and after the retelling and other comprehension questions, he asked the child what part of the story was the most unbelievable. He was attempting to assess the child’s comprehension skills. My student also asked “Do you know what unbelievable means?”
And this is what the child said: “Yes, awesome!” As my student started to say “No, that is not the right meaning”, the child provided an alternative: “Excellent!” The child, of course, did not explain frogs cannot be pets or frogs do not wave their little “hand” to children. But, of course, unbelievable is many times awesome and excellent!
What do we do with this type of observations as clinicians? What is the child showing us? He has definitely (at least partly) acquired the word “unbelievable”, he also knows that there are synonyms in the language. How is this little interaction aligned with the Beginning stage of English Language Development? He did not appear to use his home language to learn the word “unbelievable”. Perhaps more importantly, how can we acknowledge his insights and guide him forward?
Have you ever asked yourself these questions before?
Bilingualism is finally being understood as what it is: a typical, positive and enriching form of living and of communicating in the United States. That is, an asset rather than a deficit. In many cities, dual language programs are flourishing and parents from multiple backgrounds are showing a commitment to bilingual language and literacy development. This is great news; however, there are still some concerns about bilingual education and bilingual children with language disorders. Are these children able to learn in a dual language classroom? Will they feel overwhelmed and confused? Will they manage to learn English? What should we recommend their parents?
We can now make some recommendations based on recent research conducted with Latino Spanish-speaking preschoolers with language impairment (Gutierrez-Clellen et al., 2012; Restrepo et al., 2013; Simon-Cereijido et al., 2013). And the recommendation is definitely bilingual! We found that the Spanish-speaking children with language disorders learned new English words and increased the length of their English phrases at a faster rate from interventions in Spanish and English, rather than in English only. Moreover, they also showed gains in Spanish.
In a separate study, we collaborated with Head Start teachers who taught our lessons in small groups to bilingual children with and without language impairment (Simon-Cereijido & Gutierrez-Clellen, 2014). All of the children, regardless of ability, made more progress than the bilingual children who did not receive the lessons and who were instructed in English only. Thus, a bilingual approach proved to be more beneficial than an English only approach for the children with language impairment.
This intense vocabulary and oral language intervention was developed following quality preschool evidence-based practices combined with a bilingual approach. Units of four 30-minute lessons were designed around bilingual picture books and every unit introduced the storybook, the new words, and the games in Spanish, the strong language of these children. The children, then, were ready to listen to the same information in English the following day. Days 3 and 4 alternated the languages. We explicitly designed several hands-on activities to repeatedly teach new, less frequent vocabulary (a weakness found in a great number of typical and atypical Latino children). We also designed “Talk and Play” games to facilitate the production of longer utterances. The “Talk and Play” activities used themes from the storybooks, familiar words, and a few toys that would allow the children to take “speaking” risks in a playful environment.
There is still much more to figure out about interventions and programs for bilingual children with language disorders. However, we do know more than before, and we should feel more and more confident to support bilingualism at home and at school.
Gutierrez-Clellen et al., 2012
Restrepo et al., 2013
Simon-Cereijido et al., 2013
Simon-Cereijido & Gutierrez-Clellen, 2014