Posts Tagged proficiency

Are dominance and proficiency the same?

This is a question that comes up from time to time, and I see some people using it interchangeably, I see this in the scientific literature and I see it in every day conversations and practice. So, what gives?

Let’s first look at the dictionary definitions:

Dominant: (from the learners dictionary by Merriam-Webster)

[more dominant; most dominant]

: more important, powerful, or successful than most or all others

  • The company is now dominant in the market

most common

  •  The dominant [=prevailing] language/religion of the country

biology : causing or relating to a characteristic or condition that a child will have if one of the child’s parents has it

  • dominant genes

Proficient: (also from the learners dictionary)

[more proficient; most proficient]

 : good at doing something : skillful

  • proficient reader
  • He has become very proficient at computer programming.
  • She is proficient in two foreign languages.

So, these aren’t exactly the same. In the work that I have done in language and language impairment, my collaborators and I try to distinguish between the two. Why does it matter?

I think especially in research and clinical work in language impairment it’s important to separate out the two. Children with typical development may demonstrate dominance in one language or another (or both), and at the same time they may have high levels of proficiency in both their languages. That is, they can be highly proficient users of both their languages at yet have MORE dominance in one of their languages.

In contrast children with language impairment demonstrate low proficiency in both their languages (not in every domain of course, they may show relative strengths in some aspects of language). At the same time they can be stronger (within their own performance) in their first language or in their second language or in both of their languages.

I think we can get into trouble when we assume that low proficiency in one language means dominance in the other. It doesn’t. We CAN have kids who show low proficiency in L1 and high proficiency in L2 and are dominant in L2. We can also have kids who show low proficiency in both and have dominance in only one language. We can have those who have high proficiency in both and be more dominance in one. The danger with conflating the two terms (and therefore measures) is that it could lead to bad decisions.

If the assumption is that a child with low proficiency in one language is therefore dominant in the other, it could lead to delaying of services (RTI, speech or language intervention, reading intervention) if they have a true impairment. It might be assumed that low proficiency in one  language equals low proficiency overall, and this assumption might lead to a diagnosis of a language impairment even if the child actually does NOT have an impairment (and is actually highly proficient in the other language). If a child is not very proficient in either language, this may lead people to say something like, they have no language (I totally hate that, unless they are in a coma, I don’t know how this could be). This assumption might lead to giving parents suggestions like only using one language because the child has incomplete language acquisition in both. Like monolingualism would be the cure for language impairment. UGH!

So, don’t get rid of one term. We need both proficiency (to measure how good children are at each language) and dominance (to determine which is the stronger of the two languages for a given bilingual child).

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Does Bilingualism Increase Stuttering?

Maybe, but I don’t think so. What we do know is that we don’t really know enough about how bilingualism interacts with stuttering. We know that bilingualism doesn’t make autism worse; we know that bilingualism doesn’t increase the risk of language impairment, so consistent with these findings; I think that bilingualism shouldn’t make stuttering worse. There is one study that reports that children who start learning their second language later in childhood bilinguals are less likely to stutter than bilinguals who start using both their languages from an early age. As pointed out however, it seems that the prevalence of stuttering in bilinguals is no higher (or maybe less) than that of monolinguals. I think however we need to get a handle on what stuttering looks like in bilinguals to make accurate diagnosis. We know for example that bilinguals demonstrate more tip of the tongue phenomena and that mazes (pauses, hesitations, reformulations) are different in different languages. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bilingual Test Development

Before, I wrote about different purposes for test development. Given those different test functions an implication is that the way we then develop tests for these should be different. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why Do We Test Bilinguals?

One of the themes that ran throughout all the presentations at the workshop was to know why we’re testing. And thus, to know why a given test is being developed (or selected). It’s important to know the purpose of testing in the first place. So, what are reasons people test bilinguals? What is it we need to know; and for what purpose?

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Not Mastering English (Yet)

Do graduates of American high schools need to master English before they finish High School? A decision by the Oregon Board of Education says no. What is this about? What is mastery of a language anyway? Read the rest of this entry »

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So, where’s the GOLD?

Recently, I posted in my lab blog (or is it on my lab blog? I don’t know) about the challenges in developing a test for bilingual children. In collaboration with Aquiles Iglesias, Vera Gutierrez-Clellen, Brian Goldstein, and Lisa Bedore, I worked on development of the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment (BESA)– a test for Spanish-English bilinguals designed for identification of language impairment. The challenge that we faced when we began this 7 year project (in 1998) is that there was very little data on markers of language impairment in other languages. In fact some of this information had just begun to emerge for language impairment in English speakers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Testing ESL Children: What we can do now

One of the challenges in assessment of bilingual children is deciding whether or not they have language impairment. On one hand SLPs might decide to wait for children to learn more English before they assess them. On the other hand it’s important to identify children who have language impairment early so that we can intervene.

As of yet there are no standardized tests for bilingual children. There are some standardized tests for children who speak other languages. But, often these tests are inappropriate because they do not apply to children who speak two languages. There are some folks working on development of such tests for Spanish-English speakers (including me), these are few and don’t apply to all language pairs or all ages. At least not yet. So, what can we do NOW for the kids who are referred for assessment of language ability? What do we do to make decisions about language ability in the absence of standardized tests or even in the absence of personnel who speak the child’s language? Read the rest of this entry »

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Dynamic Assessment with Bilingual Children

A particular challenge in assessment of bilingual children is to distinguish between differences in their language performance due to not knowing English and differences (or low scores) due to having language impairment or learning disabilities. I’ve been doing research in dynamic assessment for a number of years to explore whether this is an option for children from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds. Two of my research studies focused on evaluation of children’s naming skills and included bilingual children in a Head Start program: Peña, Quinn, & Iglesias (1992) and Peña, Iglesias, & Lidz (2001).

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How much time?

Ran across this article in the Washington Post on learning a second language. In this story, the report states that children are getting foreign language lessons 30 minutes a week; they contrast this with a program in which children learn by having contact with the foreign language every day across a number of subjects. But, I got to thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

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English as an L2 in U.S. Schools

There’s a very nice opinion piece in the NY Times on how to teach children who don’t speak English as a first language. Various perspectives are represented and these are based on available data. While I found the different viewpoint interesting and fact-based, the comments were less so. Comments for the most part were based on people’s own experiences and arm-chair analysis. Not that ones own experiences don’t count. But, an experience is only an n of one. We need facts and careful study based on larger numbers in order to develop policy and guidelines. For children in the process of learning a second language there are a number of factors that impact school success so that a one-size-fits all is probably not feasible. So, what is it we do know?

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