Tiana Cowan and Brittany Williams
In the previous piece by Carol Miller and Ji Sook Park, we learned that non linguistic tasks have the potential to serve as a solution to the challenge of appropriately distinguishing typically developing bilinguals from bilinguals with developmental language disorder. This is particularly important given the prevalence of monolingual teachers, and the lack of good assessments in many bilingual children’s home language. In this piece, we discuss a different approach to this challenge, which uses the language-based tool of storytelling.
Researchers Govindarajan and Paradis (2019) compared how typically developing preschool-age children and bilingual children with language disorders told stories in their second language, English. They hoped to find a clear error pattern that would distinguish typically developing children from those with language disorders. The children, who spokes languages as diverse as Assyrian, Mandarin, Somali, Pashto, Spanish, and Arabic, were asked to tell a story describing what happened in a picture. Their stories were then coded to determine whether they included basic story elements, such as an introduction, setting, characters, a problem, and a resolution.
Because the task was performed in English, Govindarajan and Paradis hoped to identify a measure that monolingual English-speaking teachers could use in the classroom to assess their students. They expected both bilingual and atypically developing children to have at least some errors, but they also expected that the error patterns would be different across groups. In addition to the storytelling task, they also gathered information about the children’s language environment and development.
The results of the storytelling task showed that both typically developing bilingual children and those with developmental language disorder made more errors than monolingual children. This is perhaps unsurprising, especially since the bilingual children were acquiring English as a second language. The researchers also found that the more the children were exposed to rich and varied English input in their everyday environment, the better their stories were. Interestingly, this was the case only for typically developing bilinguals. For bilinguals with developmental language disorder, the researchers found that even when their everyday language environment was rich with English input, their storytelling did not improve.
This finding illustrates the importance of comparing bilingual children with other bilingual children when assessing language development. If we compare bilingual development to monolingual development, then we run the risk of wrongly diagnosing a typically developing bilingual child as a child with a language disorder, simply because that child does not perform in the same way that a monolingual child might. It is therefore extremely important to consider bilingual children’s language development independent from monolinguals. In addition, because language environment clearly plays a role in development, it is also important to collect information about the child’s language environment as part of the assessment process.
We are clearly on a path toward being able to identify and employ more effective measures to assess bilingual children’s language development. We hope that by helping to share and spread this information, we can also contribute toward more effective care for the growing number of bilingual children being served in our nation’s schools.
This piece summarizes the research in the following article:
Govindarajan, K., & Paradis, J. (2019). Narrative abilities of bilingual children with and without Developmental Language Disorder (SLI): Differentiation and the role of age and input factors. Journal of communication disorders, 77, 1-16.
Other helpful references:
Fleckstein, A., Prévost, P., Tuller, L., Sizaret, E., & Zebib, R. (2018). How to identify SLI in bilingual children: a study on sentence repetition in French. Language Acquisition, 25(1), 85-101.
Paradis, J., Schneider, P., & Duncan, T. S. (2013). Discriminating children with language impairment among English-language learners from diverse first-language backgrounds. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.
Center for Language Science graduate assistant Jessica Vélez Avilés, shares Spanish stories from Puerto Rico during the Mount Nittany Elementary LitFest in March 2019.