Archive for category bilingualism

Stop Telling Parents of Bilingual Children to Use One Language

I keep hearing these stories and it’s infuriating! There’s no evidence that bilingualism is confusing and no evidence that bilingualism makes developmental language disorder worse so stop it! 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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What should you expect in the two languages of US Mandarin-English bilingual children?

If you are a speech-language pathologist, have you noticed that in recent years there has been some Mandarin-speaking children on your patient list? If you are a parent of a Mandarin-English bilingual child, do you at times worry about your child’s language development? Both of you may wonder: what does a typical language profile look like for US Mandarin-English bilingual children? It may be hard for you to find relevant studies, but luckily we have just published some data to address this question.

We had 21 Mandarin-English bilingual children from the central Texas. Mandarin was their first language as both parents were Mandarin-speaking, and they started learning English later when they started school. We presented a wordless picture book to children and asked them to tell us a complete story. We asked them to tell stories in both languages: Mandarin and English.

In order to tell stories, these children, who were around 7 years old, had to use their all their language skill. This was not an easy task for a child who just entered school because they may not be fluent in one of their languages depending on when they started learning English and whether they used Mandarin at home. The stories really provided us a way to describe children’s language performance. We looked at macrostructure – the global structure of a story. For example, whether the child included main characters in the story, whether there was an event that initiated the story, whether the development and the consequence of the event were stated, and whether the characters had any internal responses corresponding to the event.

We also examined what specific linguistic features were used in each language – microstructure. As you may know, Mandarin and English are very different. One big difference is that English uses affixes (e.g., plural –s, past tense –ed), whereas Mandarin does not. Mandarin has a classifier inserted between a number and a noun when people count objects (e.g., san ZHI qingwa – three ZHI frogs), but English does not. There are many other differences and these are just some examples. In each language, we selected 17 features to present children’s overall microstructure in that language.

Then we compared children’s performance between the two languages on macrostructure and microstructure. We knew that these children at the time of testing listened to and spoke more English than Mandarin daily, so we considered experience in our data computation. After statistically accounting for current language experience, we found that macrostructure was comparable between the two languages. That says if children know that they need to include these key elements into a story, they can do it in both languages. However, we saw a big difference in microstructure, with English significantly better than Mandarin. Children could easily produce many English features, but could not produce most Mandarin features.

Does this relate to their imbalanced cumulative language experience in English and Mandarin? The answer is YES. Age, associated with cumulative language exposure, was only related to macro- and microstructure in English but not Mandarin. Probably, to maintain Mandarin as a heritage language, these bilingual children needed to gain more exposure and to practice Mandarin more often. Another thing we considered was that increased English experience may interfere the growth of Mandarin, as the two languages are typologically distinct.

A caveat I would like to note is that these children were from Texas, and we did not know if these results could apply to children living in other places where Mandarin has stronger community support for use (like New York, California……). We will strive to find the answers for you in our future studies.

If you want to read the publication, here is the link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323641964_Narrative_skills_in_two_languages_of_Mandarin-English_bilingual_children

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Does bilingualism hurt children with DLD?

You know I’m gonna say no. But, it’s important to establish what does happen and to do so with data. After several studies we have enough data to look at this question more carefully with a set of children with developmental language disorder (aka: language impairment; specific language impairment; or primary language impairment) who had varying levels of exposure to Spanish and English. Read the rest of this entry »

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Translanguaging

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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Working with children who have language impairment: Don’t forget the “glue”

While acquiring language, children show a tendency to use function words with a very high frequency compared to content words. These high frequency words are referred to as core vocabulary words, a term frequently used in AAC. These include pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, articles, auxiliary verbs, modals, indefinites, as well as content words including adverbs, but few nouns or verbs. Function words provide speakers a bridge to combine words to increase their utterance length. You can think of these as the glue that binds together grammar and vocabulary. This “glue” is important and are used across different kinds of contexts including conversations and story-telling. They are used across many contents including work, school and home.

We were interested in understanding how children with language impairment (LI) use these core vocabulary words. We wanted to know which core words they used; if patterns were different in each language; and if children with language impairment used these same core words as often as those with typical development.

So, in a recent longitudinal study we looked at use of core vocabulary words in Spanish-English bilingual children with and without LI. We analyzed 30 core vocabulary words in Spanish and English narrative samples of children in kindergarten and again in first grade. Children with LI produced fewer core vocabulary words and used them less frequently compared to their typically developing (TD) peers. This difference was more pronounced in first grade.

Graphical abstract_revised
One lesson we can draw from this is that children with LI have much more sparse vocabulary as compared to their typical peers consistent with previous findings. What was unexpected was that they also use core words much less often than their TD peers. While this does not mean that intervention should focus on, for example, the articles “the” “la” or “el” in therapy. Or at least not exclusively. But, it is important to think about how these core vocabulary words supports learning of the content words (such as nouns). It may be important to teach content words in phrases rather than in isolation so that the core words are reinforced. These can also serve as “frames” to teach other content words. As children progress we can continue to help them to link together learned phrases into sentences and conversation. So, as you work with children with language impairment, don’t forget about the glue that holds it all together.

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Do bilinguals have to be tested in both languages? Part 2

The answers are yes, no, maybe, it depends. Last time we talked about “yes.” This time let’s talk about:

  • no

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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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