Red Flags for Speech-Language Impairment in Bilingual Children Differentiate disability from disorder by understanding common developmental milestones. School Matters
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School Matters  |   November 01, 2016
Red Flags for Speech-Language Impairment in Bilingual Children
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Development / Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Language Disorders / School Matters
School Matters   |   November 01, 2016
Red Flags for Speech-Language Impairment in Bilingual Children
The ASHA Leader, November 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.21112016.32
The ASHA Leader, November 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.21112016.32
You just cozied up to your email with a hot cup of tea when you are asked:
“We have a bilingual student struggling to communicate. How do we know if he has a communication deficit or if learning a second language causes his difficulties?”
You breathe deeply and settle in for what you know involves a complicated response. Bilingual development is incredibly complex. It varies by languages involved, age of acquisition, settings where the student uses each language and many other factors. Any perusal of research on bilingualism would convince you of this complexity. However, there is a fairly simple, research-based way to get a sense of whether a child experiences true communication issues or just needs to adjust to a new language.
What if we talk about commonalities among most languages rather than differences? What if—for one minute—we set down the multitude of charts painting the arrays of differences among every language? Do you know what’s left? Developmental sequences valid for most children, regardless of home language. These sequences help us identify if a bilingual child is developing typically or if we should consider an evaluation.
Red flags for speech
Let’s start with speech development. Speech-language pathologists expect students to reach certain milestones on time and at an expected level of intelligibility. These developmental milestones remain consistent across multiple languages and for monolingual and bilingual children. For example, a kindergartener whose speech remains equally unintelligible in both of his languages raises concern, because research suggests typically developing children retain some sound errors, but are fully intelligible by age 4.
Typical developmental milestones consistent across numerous languages are listed in the chart below.
Red flags for language
Language development follows a similar set of guidelines. Certain language building blocks develop in all children before and during early spoken language. Bilingual children develop early vocabulary at the same rate as monolingual children. Bilingual and monolingual children also meet one- and two-word milestones around the same time.
Early language building blocks remain similar—single words, lexical spurt, two-word phrases—so we want to take a deeper look at a child’s language development if they don’t develop these building blocks by the appropriate time (see graphic below).
General education curricula place huge importance on vocabulary development, so this seems like a good time to introduce the idea of conceptual scoring. If we evaluate vocabulary development using the same language between monolingual and bilingual children—English to English, for example—bilingual children might seem like they understand fewer words.
The environment influences a child’s word use, so a bilingual student might know his colors in English because they were taught at school. The same child identifies clothing articles in Spanish because he learned them at home. Conceptual scoring doesn’t mean giving extra credit if they know a word in both languages, such as “hola” and “hello.” It just means we count unique vocabulary in both languages and consider a full evaluation if the conceptual score (number of concepts) falls below that of their peers (see graphic below).
And now for my disclaimer (drumroll, please): I’m not advocating for anything less than a full bilingual evaluation to determine eligibility. However, we need to be able to identify when a concern warrants moving a child through the referral process. All children should meet these milestones and building blocks. If your student or client can’t demonstrate these abilities in one or both languages, feel confident about seeking a bilingual evaluation.
Sources
Brookshire, B. L., Lynch, J. I., & Fox, D. R. (1980). A parent-child cleft palate curriculum: Developing speech and language. C. C. Publications.
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Flipsen, P.Jr. (2009). Measuring the intelligibility of conversational speech in children. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 20(4), 303–312.
Flipsen, P.Jr. (2009). Measuring the intelligibility of conversational speech in children. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 20(4), 303–312.×
Pearson, B. Z. (1998). Assessing lexical development in bilingual babies and toddlers. The International Journal of Bilingualism, 2(3), 347–372.
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Pearson, B. Z. & Fernandez, S. C. (1994). Patterns of interaction in the lexical growth of two languages of infants and toddlers. Language learning, 44(4), 617–653. [Article]
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Pearson, B. Z., Fernandez, S. C., & Oller, D. K. (1993). Lexical development in bilingual infants and toddlers: Comparison to monolingual norms. Language Learning, 43(1), 93–120. [Article]
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November 2016
Volume 21, Issue 11