Archive for category vocabulary

Planning for between-language transfer

I don’t think that transfer (between languages) just happens. I think you have to plan for it. So, what kind of things transfer? How can we use what we know about language transfer to maximize transfer between two languages? Last time I talked a little about a study we had recently published in Seminars in Speech and Language s (I encourage you to read the whole issue btw, it’s a very nice set of papers). We saw improvement in both languages in semantics and narratives. Some kids demonstrated gains in morphosyntax but others did not. Read the rest of this entry »

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Receptive-Expressive Gaps in Bilinguals with LI

In a new paper in the area of semantics, we did an analysis of a group of bilingual 7 to 9;11 year old children with and without language impairment. We were interested in seeing if children with LI showed similar patterns on receptive and expressive semantics tasks compared to bilingual children with typical development. In a previous study, we examined younger (preschool age) bilingual children on expressive and receptive semantics items on the BESOS. In that study, described here, we found that in English, children showed higher standard scores receptivity compared to the scores they were able to achieve expressively when they had very little English exposure. We proposed that it was important to understand this potential for a receptive-expressive gap in children with LI. Read the rest of this entry »

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Really? Can kids with Language Impairment or _____ Learn TWO Languages?

Is the earth round, really? It seems flat to me. I’ve been in many places in the world and I haven’t heard about anyone falling off it and so from my own logic and experience it appears the earth is flat. This is how evidence goes it seems and I find myself getting frustrated but I do try to understand the logic of disbelief– even in light of evidence. Yes, the earth is round (a sphere actually) and children with language impairment and those with other disabilities that affect language learning CAN (and do) become bilingual. No, they do not become MORE delayed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Learning English differently

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?

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Bilingual intervention: why not?

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

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When working with bilingual children, it is a matter of course that one will need to translate from one language to another. Children who are English language learners may need instructions or directions translated so that they can know what to do. Curricula may need to be translated to maximize learning. Tests are also translated for ease of assessment of knowledge in a given domain. In the area of speech and language assessment however, translation is not the best option.  Read the rest of this entry »

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The Bilingual English Spanish Assessment

We’re very excited to let everyone know that now, after a number of years of development and testing the BESA is available to speech-language pathologists.


My co-authors and I developed the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment (BESA) in response to a critical need for valid, reliable instruments to assessment of speech and language ability in Spanish-English bilingual children. It focuses on children (ages 4 years, 0 months through 6 years, 11 months) who have varying levels of Spanish-English bilingualism. BESA was specifically developed to determine if speech and/or language errors observed in some young children were due to limited exposure to English or to a language impairment. We know that with time, children with typical development will learn a second language. But, at the same time, early intervention for children who have speech and language impairment is critical.

Read the rest of this entry »

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How should a child’s two languages be combined in bilingual clinical decision making?

Across both these posts, presentations, chapters and journal articles, I often say that we need to test children in both of their languages. I think that many of us know that. The question however is what do you do with that information once you’ve obtained it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Assessment of Bilingual Children

Accurate assessment of bilingual children is a challenge for educators including speech-language pathologists all over the world. When children have exposure to more than one language it might be difficult to know if low language and reading scores are due to lack of enough experience in the language tested or if these are indicative of a language impairment or language based reading delay. A number of research groups all over the world have been working on this problem for a number of years. Three years ago I participated in a workshop on bilingualism in Wales. A two-volume book, in part, is the current product of that workshop. For those who buy the pair, currently there is a discount offered. Read the rest of this entry »

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BESA: Content validity

Last month I posted saying I was working on the validity analyses for the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment (BESA) that is hopefully soon to be published and available for clinicians. Today, I’ll tell you a little about the results. As many of you know, a number of years ago we (Vera Gutierrez-Clellen, Aquiles Iglesias, and I) got an NIH contract to explore typical and atypical speech and language development in Spanish-English bilingual children. Brian Goldstein and Lisa Bedore joined our team about a year later. The results of the 7 year project were to have a measure that would identify bilingual children with language impairment and phonological impairment. Read the rest of this entry »

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