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.
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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On Monday, we will have three guest speakers: Ellen Bialystok, Karen Emmorey, and Claude Goldenberg at our Bilingual Symposium here at UT hosted by the Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation and the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, UT Austin. I know that you all can’t drop everything and come to Austin on Monday morning, but you can watch it livestream. Isn’t technology great!? I think this is a real advantage of being at the Moody College of Communication. Hope you can join us.
Update: you can view the 3 sessions on the HABLA lab youtube channel.
I haven’t posted for a while, things have been pretty busy finishing up a project and starting another, applying for grant money so that we can pay for proposed projects and so on. But, today I got a message from a bilingual SLP who works in early intervention. She had some concerns about some decisions and procedures being made by the local school district. She was working to do an assessment of a 3-year old child who had approximately 10 words in his or her vocabulary. Now most of us would see this as strong evidence of a language delay or impairment. But, what if the child’s first language is not English?
We have been working on the question of how to best identify language impairment in bilinguals for a long time. One guideline that has been around for a long time is to test in both languages. In workshops and in presentations I often will repeat TEST IN BOTH LANGUAGES, test in both languages… But, how should results from two languages be combined? Read the rest of this entry »
Well, it’s that time of year— fall is upon us. At UT, that means new students (and likely their parents) driving down San Antonio (a one way street) in the wrong direction. So far, I’ve spotted one driver doing this and it’s sure to increase as students move in and as classes start in a couple of weeks.
For those of you who work in elementary schools or preschool settings, screening may be part of the fall routine. I remember I worked for a few years in Head Start and we would screen children every fall. My first year (1984) I remember we just made up a screener. The SLPs and I got together and came up with a form and a few questions that we would talk to kids about while we observed their speech and language. Later on as there was less money to spend on things like screening, we relied on teacher referral. I did notice that often teachers made referrals if children had articulation errors but not much else. And many of the 3 year olds were being referred for typical developmental errors. So, we went to a modified screening procedure where we asked teachers to complete a form that focused their attention on aspects of speech and language that might be problematic for given ages. We would sit together to then determine if the child had more typical developmental errors or if a referral was really warranted. It also helped us to pick up on children who might have language-based impairment as well. Read the rest of this entry »
It is well known that different languages have different phonological structures. Some have lots of sounds put together in certain ways, other languages have fewer sounds and these go together perhaps in other ways. Comparing Spanish and English is interesting in the US context because Spanish is the second most common language after English. The majority of English language learners in the US speak Spanish as a first language. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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.
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.
Something to think about– I haven’t read the paper, but I will and will also comment. The points raised here are important with respect to assessment of children from different cultures (whose culture is likely not represented on the test) and for bilinguals (who are likely also bicultural).
In the story “Mexican-American Toddlers: Understanding the Achievement Gap” on last week’s All Things Considered, I was disappointed not to hear a response to Bruce Fuller from an expert on bilingual and multicultural education. Including this perspective would have highlighted two significant problems with the piece: first, that Dr. Fuller’s research is framed in a highly anglocentric way, and second, that some of the claims he made on the radio are not supported by his research.
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