Archive for category between-language

Intervention in Spanish leads to gains in Spanish & English

My colleagues and I have completed a series of studies looking at whether we can promote between-language transfer and how much the language of intervention matters. In a couple of studies, we’ve compared language of instruction assigning bilinguals to either Spanish or English intervention conditions and in one study we assigned children to Spanish or English then switched language of intervention halfway through. We see evidence of between language transfer in these conditions.

In another two-part (working on part three) series we’ve been interested in whether doing intervention in the child’s home language (Spanish) leads to gains in Spanish or both Spanish and English. In one study, we looked at grammatical interventions and I talked about that last time I posted. We used broad principles of learning to plan for between-language grammatical transfer so that we could maximize impact between the two languages. You can read that paper here.

What about semantics and narratives? Our intervention was a book-based intervention where we worked on building semantic networks related to the books’ themes. We used target words to build children’s verb and noun phrases. And we used principles of mediated learning to teach children about story structure, characters, settings, actions, and resolutions.

We looked at three measures for this, a single-word vocabulary test (EOWPVT-SBE), a semantics test (BESA), and a narrative test (TNL) administered in Spanish and English. Our results demonstrate gains on the narrative and semantic tasks. While gains were greater in Spanish (between 1 and 1.3 SD), which was the language of instruction, we also saw significant gains in English (between .3 and .67 SD).

What were the elements? We leveraged meaning and tried to target concepts that could transfer. In the semantics domain, about 1/3 of the words we selected were Spanish-English cognates. We focused on strategies to help children make connections among words and word meanings using semantic maps, definitions, and making connections between what they already knew, wanted to know, and what they learned (KWL). For the narrative intervention portion, we targeted story elements, used a book-walk approach, and supported story predictions.

This is a small study, with only 13 children, but we are adding to the knowledge base around bilingual interventions and ways we can better support between-language transfer.


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Designing Intervention for Between-Language Transfer

SLPs working with bilingual children often ask how to design interventions that promote transfer. We know that it’s not appropriate to take away a child’s home language. We also know that most SLPs (95% or more) only speak one language. So what do we do?

This is a question that my colleagues and I have thought about a lot. I’ve written about our previous studies here and here. We know that not everything transfers. Some parts of language seem to more readily transfer between languages. Usually meaning including story structure, vocabulary and semantics. But form doesn’t transfer as easily. If forms are shared– plural s in Spanish and English for example, they are more likely to transfer. But, it’s less likely that the subjunctive form in Spanish will transfer to English. They are too different.

Still, we wanted to incorporate grammatical goals into our intervention since grammar is an area of difficulty for children with DLD. First, we thought about broad principles of language learning that would support transfer. We drew from MacWhinney’s Unified Model to help us think about transfer:

  • Resonance helps to reinforce patterns. We made sure that the vocabulary we used was drawn from the curriculum, and that we used the vocabulary in full phrases and sentences. We reasoned that this would help children learn the grammatical patterns as well as the vocabulary.
  • Proceduralization helps children make connections. Rather than teaching grammatical forms in isolation we emphasized features in larger story telling contexts using repeated exposures.
  • Internalization is the process by which children may regulate their own actions through language. We expand this by supporting children’s use of L1 in supporting metalinguistic awareness. We propose that this self-talk in the L1 can help form a bridge between L1 and L2 learning.
  • Transfer can be negative or positive. In negative transfer, children might incorrectly apply patterns for their L1 to the L2. In positive transfer they might use what they know to leverage use of forms in L2. We tried to promote positive transfer through use of cognates, and through pointing out similarities (and differences) in the grammars of the two languages.

Grammatical Target Selection

In our study, we did not individualize targets for each child. Instead, we identified the kinds of targets that are most difficult for children with DLD in Spanish and in English. We wanted to provide support for grammatical comprehension and production within narrative and expository texts. What’s seems to be difficult for children with DLD is forms that are less salient in the input. We identified constructions at a broad level that are difficult for children with DLD in both Spanish and English and also how they might manifest differently across the two languages. We thought about effective communication through elaboration and precision. Targets we chose included the following:

  • Elaborated noun phrases are the building blocks for grammar across both languages. And we could build up the vocabulary words they were learning into these descriptive phases. We included use of prepositions and adjectives. In Spanish, we made sure to focus on number and gender agreement in using adjectives + nouns since this is an area of difficulty for kids with DLD.
  • Tense and complex utterances were targeted to help support expression of causal and temporal relationships within the stories that children hear, read, and told.
  • Deictic reference – we incorporated use of articles and pronouns from the texts to emphasize different points of view, references, and agreement.

Results indicated significant gains across grammatical forms in Spanish including (clitics, subjunctive, imperfect, and adjective agreement). There were also significant gains in English (even though the intervention was completely in Spanish). Gains we noted in English included 3rd singular, passives, and negatives. We think that through an approach which emphasized expression of complete and elaborated ideas, children started paying more attention to ways they could be more precise in their use of grammar. Thus, in this study, it wasn’t about the specific forms but rather providing the tools (and models) that children could use to express their knowledge through language. The focus wasn’t as much on the “correctness” of use but on elaboration and expression of meaning. And this could be done across both languages.

This is just a small study, but it gives us a glimpse into how we can use these learning principles with broad grammatical targets to support transfer. If you want to read the original paper, you can do so here.

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Receptive Expressive Gap in Narratives

Assessment of narratives can be helpful in making a diagnosis of developmental language disorder (DLD). One of the things that I like about narrative assessment is that it is efficient, you can analyze the narrative at different levels (words, sentences, story). For kids who are bilingual, narrative assessment can provide a way to analyze their language when there aren’t standardized tests. Additionally, it appears that bilingual children transfer what they know about story structure from one language to another so that also makes it useful.

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Dynamic Assessment of Narratives: Which Language Should I Choose?

Dynamic assessment (DA) is a powerful approach that we can employ as part of diagnostic decision making. There are a number of advantages to DA, especially for children whose experiences don’t meet mainstream expectations including dual language learners. A number of DA approaches have been validated and show good sensitivity and specificity. DA of narratives and word learning are two of examples of these approaches.

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Testing in Two Languages

When we test bilingual children we need to be able to do so in both of their languages. We can to look at speech and language in each of their two languages and we use this information to determine if their language production is like that of their typical (bilingual peers).

In the area of lexical-semantics we know that children who have exposure to two languages often show patterns of lexical knowledge consistent with their divided exposure. They may know home words in the home language and school words in the second language. It makes it difficult to test in only one language, but how do we take account of both their languages?

One of the observations we’ve made in many years of testing bilingual kids is that it is difficult at times for them to switch between languages– especially when they’ve been using English in diagnostics. This doesn’t mean of course that kids don’t codeswitch, they do and they do so during testing, but switching between languages on demand is hard.

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Cognate Advantage in DLD

Cognates are really interesting words that share meaning and sound the same across languages. Languages that share the same roots also have a large number of cognates because of their shared histories. Spanish and English share a large number of cognates.

We’ve studied cognate recognition in young children. In that study of kindergarten  and first grade children, we found that Spanish dominant children and English dominant children scored similarly on  a receptive vocabulary test given in English. But, they showed different patterns of response. Those who were Spanish dominant were more likely to know the cognates– even those that were above their age level. English dominant kids tended to know non-cognates. So, consistent with other studies, we found a cognate advantage for Spanish-speaking children learning English as a second language. In a recent study,  we were interested in whether bilingual children with DLD would show a similar cognate advantage. Read the rest of this entry »

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Does conceptual scoring increase classification accuracy for vocabulary tests?

We’ve (as a field) have known for about 20 years that single word vocabulary tests whether they are receptive or expressive tests are poor indicators of developmental language disorders (DLD). At the same time, these tests are very often used by SLPs as part of a diagnostic. They are easy to give, quick, and highly reliable. It’s hard to make an error in  administration or scoring on these tests. But, reliability is not enough (neither are the other reasons). Even if it only takes 5 minutes and the score is a perfect representation of what the child can do it doesn’t mean that a low score indicates impairment or that a high score indicates typical development. As far as domains of language go– children with DLD do pretty well with vocabulary at the single word level. It’s semantics (connections among words) that they have difficulty with. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can we improve home language surveys?

I’m working on a paper that focuses on language dominance, proficiency and exposure. I’ve written about these definitions before. Here, I want to think about how it is we capture this information.

There are a number of really nice surveys and questionnaires that have been developed that help to document this information. These include L1 and L2 age of acquisition; educational history in each language, rating of proficiency in each language. Sometimes this is broken out into speaking, listening, reading and writing. Some questionnaires ask about what language is more proficient, and may ask for what purpose(s) each language is used. This information is designed to get at the question of how language is used and how proficient an individual might be across situations.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Recently, I participated in a roundtable discussion through TCU on the topic of dynamic assessment and translanguaging. My topic was dynamic assessment. But, I was really struck by the notion of  translanguaging. 

It was an interesting discussion about how to provide support to children in both languages and allow them to have access to both of their languages to maximize opportunities for language interaction. You might want to read more about translanguaging using the link above and also here. I think that translanguaging is a powerful way to support linguistic development and access in bilingual youth.


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Bilingualism for Children with Disabilities

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.

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