Archive for category bilingualism

Language Experience and Outcomes

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 »

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Bilingual Research Needs

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 

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Bilingualism has cognitive benefits unless you are Latinx

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.

The Educational Linguist

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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Intervention in Two Languages

What is the best way to do intervention with bilingual children with LI? It’s not always completely clear. Bilinguals are bilingual because they need both their languages to function in every day activities. With my colleagues, I’ve proposed for a while that in thinking about intervention we need to think about demands that are unique to L1 and L2 and those that are the same. This notion has been illustrated as a Venn diagram to show what overlaps and doesn’t. This figure comes from a chapter in Brian Goldstein’s book (now in it’s 2nd edition) where we postulated the kinds of demands a young child might need to meet in the semantic domain in Spanish vs. English.

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Other important questions are what transfers and what doesn’t? We usually want to maximize learning from one language to another. And we often assume that children can and do transfer knowledge from one language to the other. But how does this happen? In particular, how does this happen in children who have language impairment?

I think we can draw on some of the really excellent work that’s been done in bilingual education and in the area of reading. In addition there is emerging work on the topic of intervention with children who have language impairment.

We recently published a new paper in Seminars in Language Disorders, “Dual language intervention for bilinguals at risk for language impairment” by Lugo-Neris, Bedore, and Peña. In this paper 6 bilingual (Spanish-English) children with risk for language impairment participated in an intervention study. Three of the children received intervention in Spanish first for 12 sessions then 12 in English. The other three received intervention in English first, then in Spanish on the same schedule. The interventions focused on semantics, morphosyntax, and story grammar using a book-reading approach.

Testing in both languages was done at baseline and at the end of the study. Results demonstrated that children made gains in both languages on narratives and in Spanish on semantics. Examination of individual changes by first language of intervention shows some interesting patterns. Children who received intervention in Spanish first demonstrated greater gains in both languages in narratives compared to those who received English first intervention. On the other hand, children who received English first demonstrated greater gains in both languages in semantics while those who received Spanish first showed greater gains in Spanish and limited gains in English. So, it seems that the direction of transfer may be mediated by a combination of the target of intervention and the language of intervention. Of course we need to follow up with larger numbers of children to better understand how language of instruction, the child’s language experiences and the language targets together influence the kinds of gains that can be seen. We’re intrigued and excited by these findings and we hope that these will lead to more careful planning of intervention and selecting the language of intervention to maximize between language transfer.

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