Posts Tagged bilingual

Intervention in Spanish leads to gains in Spanish & English

My colleagues and I have completed a series of studies looking at whether we can promote between-language transfer and how much the language of intervention matters. In a couple of studies, we’ve compared language of instruction assigning bilinguals to either Spanish or English intervention conditions and in one study we assigned children to Spanish or English then switched language of intervention halfway through. We see evidence of between language transfer in these conditions.

In another two-part (working on part three) series we’ve been interested in whether doing intervention in the child’s home language (Spanish) leads to gains in Spanish or both Spanish and English. In one study, we looked at grammatical interventions and I talked about that last time I posted. We used broad principles of learning to plan for between-language grammatical transfer so that we could maximize impact between the two languages. You can read that paper here.

What about semantics and narratives? Our intervention was a book-based intervention where we worked on building semantic networks related to the books’ themes. We used target words to build children’s verb and noun phrases. And we used principles of mediated learning to teach children about story structure, characters, settings, actions, and resolutions.

We looked at three measures for this, a single-word vocabulary test (EOWPVT-SBE), a semantics test (BESA), and a narrative test (TNL) administered in Spanish and English. Our results demonstrate gains on the narrative and semantic tasks. While gains were greater in Spanish (between 1 and 1.3 SD), which was the language of instruction, we also saw significant gains in English (between .3 and .67 SD).

What were the elements? We leveraged meaning and tried to target concepts that could transfer. In the semantics domain, about 1/3 of the words we selected were Spanish-English cognates. We focused on strategies to help children make connections among words and word meanings using semantic maps, definitions, and making connections between what they already knew, wanted to know, and what they learned (KWL). For the narrative intervention portion, we targeted story elements, used a book-walk approach, and supported story predictions.

This is a small study, with only 13 children, but we are adding to the knowledge base around bilingual interventions and ways we can better support between-language transfer.

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Designing Intervention for Between-Language Transfer

SLPs working with bilingual children often ask how to design interventions that promote transfer. We know that it’s not appropriate to take away a child’s home language. We also know that most SLPs (95% or more) only speak one language. So what do we do?

This is a question that my colleagues and I have thought about a lot. I’ve written about our previous studies here and here. We know that not everything transfers. Some parts of language seem to more readily transfer between languages. Usually meaning including story structure, vocabulary and semantics. But form doesn’t transfer as easily. If forms are shared– plural s in Spanish and English for example, they are more likely to transfer. But, it’s less likely that the subjunctive form in Spanish will transfer to English. They are too different.

Still, we wanted to incorporate grammatical goals into our intervention since grammar is an area of difficulty for children with DLD. First, we thought about broad principles of language learning that would support transfer. We drew from MacWhinney’s Unified Model to help us think about transfer:

  • Resonance helps to reinforce patterns. We made sure that the vocabulary we used was drawn from the curriculum, and that we used the vocabulary in full phrases and sentences. We reasoned that this would help children learn the grammatical patterns as well as the vocabulary.
  • Proceduralization helps children make connections. Rather than teaching grammatical forms in isolation we emphasized features in larger story telling contexts using repeated exposures.
  • Internalization is the process by which children may regulate their own actions through language. We expand this by supporting children’s use of L1 in supporting metalinguistic awareness. We propose that this self-talk in the L1 can help form a bridge between L1 and L2 learning.
  • Transfer can be negative or positive. In negative transfer, children might incorrectly apply patterns for their L1 to the L2. In positive transfer they might use what they know to leverage use of forms in L2. We tried to promote positive transfer through use of cognates, and through pointing out similarities (and differences) in the grammars of the two languages.

Grammatical Target Selection

In our study, we did not individualize targets for each child. Instead, we identified the kinds of targets that are most difficult for children with DLD in Spanish and in English. We wanted to provide support for grammatical comprehension and production within narrative and expository texts. What’s seems to be difficult for children with DLD is forms that are less salient in the input. We identified constructions at a broad level that are difficult for children with DLD in both Spanish and English and also how they might manifest differently across the two languages. We thought about effective communication through elaboration and precision. Targets we chose included the following:

  • Elaborated noun phrases are the building blocks for grammar across both languages. And we could build up the vocabulary words they were learning into these descriptive phases. We included use of prepositions and adjectives. In Spanish, we made sure to focus on number and gender agreement in using adjectives + nouns since this is an area of difficulty for kids with DLD.
  • Tense and complex utterances were targeted to help support expression of causal and temporal relationships within the stories that children hear, read, and told.
  • Deictic reference – we incorporated use of articles and pronouns from the texts to emphasize different points of view, references, and agreement.

Results indicated significant gains across grammatical forms in Spanish including (clitics, subjunctive, imperfect, and adjective agreement). There were also significant gains in English (even though the intervention was completely in Spanish). Gains we noted in English included 3rd singular, passives, and negatives. We think that through an approach which emphasized expression of complete and elaborated ideas, children started paying more attention to ways they could be more precise in their use of grammar. Thus, in this study, it wasn’t about the specific forms but rather providing the tools (and models) that children could use to express their knowledge through language. The focus wasn’t as much on the “correctness” of use but on elaboration and expression of meaning. And this could be done across both languages.

This is just a small study, but it gives us a glimpse into how we can use these learning principles with broad grammatical targets to support transfer. If you want to read the original paper, you can do so here.

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How nonverbal are nonverbal IQ tasks?

I think we sometimes ASSUME that nonverbal tasks are nonverbal in the same way. And you know what happens when we assume right?? This is true for IQ tests that test nonverbal abilities. We have to ask what kinds of abilities? How are these tested? How are they elicited? And, how are they observed?

There are different kinds of nonverbal tasks. Sometimes the instructions are given verbally but the response is pointing, manipulating, constructing, or gesturing. Sometimes both instructions and responses are nonverbal. Some IQ tests are fully nonverbal, others have nonverbal subtests. In a paper published a couple of years ago, we were interested in how bilingual children with and without developmental language disorder (DLD) performed on nonverbal tests.

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Bilingual SLP or SLP who is bilingual?

There’s a difference.

Every so often, I see a question about whether someone who is bilingual should bother to complete a bilingual specialization or certificate program as part of their graduate training. The answers vary, and certainly there aren’t enough bilingual MA or MS programs that can provide the training, but does it matter. For me, it does. I think that SLPs who consider themselves bilingual SLPs have an ethical responsibility to be on top of the knowledge base required to practice in this area. Just like any SLP who is hired into any other position needs to have the knowledge base to meet the demands of that position.

A bilingual SLP needs to have knowledge and skills regarding bilingual development, identification of disorder in bilinguals, bilingual treatment, and knowledge about cultural factors that may impact service delivery. Asha has a statement outlining the baseline knoweldge you need to have to call yourself a bilingual SLP. Knowing another language alone does not provide you with this knowledge base any more than knowing English by itself would make you an SLP– SLPs have to complete an MA or MS degree taking courses that cover the scope of practice in the different disorder categories. I can’t imagine for example, that an SLP who stutters for example would be able to skip learning about how to assess and treat stuttering. Yes, they would bring in insights that others might not have, but it wouldn’t prepare them to work with this population. The difference of course is that knowledge and skills in bilingual assessment and treatment across all the disorder areas is not required for graduation, licensure or certification at a national level. Yet, I think that if we are going to serve bilingual populations, we need to develop the knowledge base to do so. Being bilingual IS NOT ENOUGH.

If you are bilingual and an SLP and don’t know about bilingual development, disorders, assessment, intervention, and counseling, then you are an SLP who is bilingual. You can become a bilingual SLP but you are not one yet. If this is the case, then taking courses, CEUs, reading the literature is a good way to develop and expand your practice.

Asha does not have specific rules for certifying that bilingual SLPs actually have the knowledge base that they claim. We must rely on each individual’s ethics in appropriately representing their skills and competencies. If you claim to be a bilingual SLP you are claiming that you have expertise in bilingualism, including bilingual assessment and treatment.

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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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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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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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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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