Archive for category child bilingualism

Children’s use of Spanish in the U.S. Context

In this paper, we studied Spanish-English bilinguals between the ages of 4 and 7 years old. We were interested in the relationship between bilingual children’s age, their productivity in Spanish (as indexed by MLU) and their accuracy in morpheme production. We found that age didn’t predict correct production of grammatical forms but MLU did. The grammatical forms that children demonstrated mastery on (80% or more accurate) was related to MLU. We also found that relative difficulty for grammatical forms was similar for different levels of Spanish fluency. Let’s break it down.

Here you can see what forms children produced accurately (80% or more correct) as related to their MLU.

This graphic shows the relative difficulty in children’s productives of these forms. These are based on averages from 228 Spanish-English bilingual children between the ages of 4 and 7. Easy forms are those that children on average produced correctly about 70% or more of the time. Medium forms are those children produced correctly about 60% of the time. Finally, the hard items are those that children produced correctly about 40-50% of the time.

I hope that this information is useful for those who work with Spanish-English speaking children.

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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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Grammatical Assessment of Bilingual Children in English

We’ve had a paper out for a couple of years now and I’ve been meaning to blog about it, but for some reason other things have taken priority. The question that we addressed in this study is the extent to which English assessment of children who are Spanish-English bilinguals would be useful for identification of DLD.

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Why Opinion and Personal Observation isn’t as good as Systematic Research

Families of bilingual children with developmental language disorder (DLD) are often told to use only one language. School district personnel may insist that these children receive instruction in only one language even if there are bilingual programs available. Even bilingual personnel who work with children (teachers and SLPs for example) may say that children with DLD can become more confused if in a bilingual environment. This is simply not true. I have participated in many studies that demonstrate that bilingual children are not more likely to show higher risk for DLD than monolinguals; we know that bilingual children with DLD show comparable performance to monolingual children with DLD; we know that bilingual children with DLD show cognate advantages similar to typical bilinguals; we know that intervention in one language can carry over to the other language. This work is all supported by the data-based research (linked) and is consistent with work that other researchers are doing. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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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