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FAQs from the Multilingual Affairs Committee

FREQUENTLY ASKED  QUESTIONS

MULTILINGUAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

 

 

 

These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and their answers were prepared by Johanne Paradis (University of Alberta) in collaboration with several members of COST Action IS0804 and taken from their website at : http://www.bi-sli.org/Parents.htm

They are slowly producing translations which for the time being can be downloaded as PDF files:

French | Norwegian | Polish | Slovak

FAQs (and some answers):

Parents.

1. We are raising our child bilingually at home, but we are worried that may cause a delay in her language development. We would like to know if a bilingual child is necessarily going to be delayed. In other words, is delay normal in bilinguals?

There is a great deal of evidence that infants and young children can learn two languages very successfully. The early milestones of language development happen at the same time for children who learn one language or two. For example, they babble the same way as monolingual infants, they produce their first words around their first birthday (the typical range is roughly 10-14 months), and begin to combine words into two- or three-word “sentences” around two years of age (the typical range is roughly 18-26 months).

As bilingual children grow older, there are some differences between their language use and growth when compared to monolingual children, but these differences are completely normal. They should not be a cause for concern or considered a risk factor for language delays and disorders. For example, bilingual children may mix their two languages together in one sentence (see question 4 in the FAQ for parents), and they may be more proficient in one of their languages than the other in terms of their vocabulary and grammar. The language they are more proficient in is usually the language they speak and hear the most. Given enough time and exposure, they will catch up in their less proficient language.

In the preschool and early school-age years, bilingual children often have smaller vocabularies in each language than monolinguals, but if their two vocabularies are combined, and all the words that are translation equivalents removed, bilinguals have similar or larger vocabularies than monolinguals their own age. Over time in school, bilinguals often, but not always, close the vocabulary gap with monolinguals, in at least one of their languages.

Bilingual children in the older preschool and early school age years may take a little longer than monolinguals to perfect the finer points of their languages. For example, in English, the past tense includes numerous irregular verbs, dig – dug, sing – sang, catch – caught, as well as verbs that take “-ed” for the past tense, talk – talked, help – helped. When English is one language of a bilingual child, that child might make more errors with the irregular verbs than monolingual English-speaking children the same age by saying “digged” instead of “dug” or “catched” instead of “caught”. Again, with time and sufficient exposure to English, particularly written English in school, bilingual children will eventually perfect these finer points of the language.

2. We are bilingual parents, but are considering raising our child monolingually at home, using only the societal language. However, we speak the societal language with a strong accent (having immigrated as adults) and are more proficient in our native language. Is this a good idea?

First, it is important to understand that choosing to raise your child bilingually by speaking your native language at home will not put your child at risk for not learning the societal language well. Your child should have ample opportunity to do so through the community and through schooling. Therefore, there is no need to raise your child monolingually, if this is the reason for such a choice. Second, it is important to consider that parents' level of language proficiency is very important to foster good versus poor language proficiency in a child. You (the parents) have to have very good (near native-like) proficiency in the language you are using with your child for him/her to experience the rich vocabulary and complex grammatical structures she/he needs to develop good language skills. If you are speaking a language you are not completely comfortable in, you may not be providing your child with the linguistic models that she/he needs, and moreover, you may find that over time, you will feel restricted in the topics of conversation you can have with your child because the only language you share with your child is a language you (the parents) are not entirely proficient in. In general,we recommend that parents communicate with their children in their most proficient language as much as possible. Some use of the societal language in the home is inevitable, but it is better to use mostly the native language at home.

3. When should I seek professional help if my bilingual child does not speak or shows performance which is low for his age when compared to his bilingual peers?

(Please also see answer to question 1.) Delay in speaking and slowness in development, when compared to other bilingual peers, are two separate issues. First, bilingual children achieve their early language milestones at the same time as monolinguals. For example, they babble the same way as monolingual infants, they produce their first words around their first birthday (the typical range is roughly 10-14 months), and begin to combine words into two or three word “sentences” around two years of age (the typical range is roughly 18-26 months).

Not all bilingual children meet the milestones at the same time in both languages, since they sometimes hear much more of one language than the other, but the important factor is whether they have met them in at least one language. If a bilingually-exposed child, just like a monolingually-exposed child, is delayed in achieving these early milestones, it would be advisable to have the child assessed to determine the source of the delay (please note that there is a range of ages for what is normal, and delay does not apply to a child who is at the later end of the normal range).

Now, when it comes to comparing a bilingual child’s proficiency in their languages to their bilingual peers, it is first important to determine whether the child appears to have lower proficiency in one or both languages, and whether one language might be progressing more slowly because the child hears and uses it less than his bilingual peers do. Second, it is important to try to understand if the perceived lower proficiency is just simply part of the normal range of variation between individual children, or whether it might be cause for concern. If the child shows slow development in both languages that seems to be quite noticeable compared with other bilinguals, then it would be advised to see a speech therapist for an assessment.

4. My child is three years old and we have been raising him bilingually at home. We try to follow the “one-parent-one-language” rule, but we have noticed that our son mixes the two languages together when he speaks. Is this a sign that he has a language disorder?

What you have described about your son’s language use is called “code-mixing” or “code-switching”. All bilinguals of all ages code-mix sometimes, and this is not a sign of language disorder. In young bilinguals your son’s age, the reasons why they code-mix can vary. Most of the time, children that age will code-mix more when they are having a conversation in the language they are less proficient in. (Young bilingual children are seldom equally proficient in both their languages.) Sometimes, bilingual children will choose words based on how familiar they are with them, rather than based on what language they come from, and thus, end up mixing languages in one sentence.

But research shows that young bilingual children are very sensitive to the language abilities and preferences of their conversation partners. Even two-year-old bilinguals will use more of the language preferred by their conversation partner, if not exclusively that language. Bilingual children code-mix with their parents whether they use the “one-parent-one-language” rule or not, especially when both parents are fluent in both languages. Children know they will be understood no matter which language they use. By age four, bilingual children become sensitive to the language use in the community and will be aware of which language is more appropriate for use in public places. Also by age four, bilingual children typically have developed sufficient vocabulary in both their languages, so that they can stay with one language during a conversation, instead of code-mixing to fill vocabulary gaps.

Thus, bilingual children will adapt to the language patterns of the household, if these patterns include separating the languages according to speakers or context. Even bilingual children who have language disorders do not code-mix excessively, but instead make the same choices about which language to use as their normally-developing peers.

5. We are bilingual parents and mix the two languages (code-switch) very often. Is it okay to speak both languages to the child and code-switch?

(Please also see the answer to question 2 about young bilingual children code-switching even when their parents do not.) One of the most common strategies to raise a bilingual child is to use the “one-parent-one-language” rule. This strategy is often used in situations where each parent has a different native language, and sometimes, one parent doesn’t speak the native language of the other parent. According to the one-parent-one-language rule, parents should address the child only in their native language, and persist in doing this, even if the child answers in the other language. We know that this strategy can be successful for raising bilingual children, but we also know that it is not necessary. Bilingual children are not confused, or delayed, if each parent speaks both languages to them. And bilingual children are also not confused by code-switching.

The important thing to remember in bilingual families where code-switching is the normal pattern is that children will learn to speak using this pattern, at least with other family members. This does not mean that they are confused, it just means that, since code-switching is the model presented, it is the model they learn.

The academic community knows that code-switching is a highly skilled form of language use and is a natural form of language use among bilingual individuals and in bilingual communities. The rules for how to combine the two languages that are obeyed by bilingual speakers are quite sophisticated (even if the speakers are unaware of this), and the social situations where code-switching is frequent varies across bilingual families and communities, but it is considered to be a rich and complex form of discourse. Unfortunately, sometimes code-switching is viewed negatively by, for example, health and education professionals who mistakenly see it as a barrier to children’s language development. While it is important to feel comfortable code-switching if that is the normal pattern in your family, at the same time, it is important to be aware of some of the erroneous but negative views that you may encounter outside your home.

6. At what age should we expose our child to the second language? Should we wait until he gets control of the home language first, or should we start as early as possible?

There is no precise age when it is optimal to begin to learn another language within the early childhood years. Many children around the globe learn two languages from birth in the home successfully, and even more children learn one language at home and another at school with equal long-term success. It is not necessary to learn one language first before learning a second one, although it is advisable to introduce a second language sometime before the child is 6 to 8 years old, if you want the child to speak the second language without an accent.

When children are introduced to a second language at an older age, or even past puberty, they rarely sound exactly like native speakers, even if they become very fluent speakers of that language. Rather than age, successful bilingual outcomes have more do with making sure that children have rich, frequent, and continuous exposure to both languages, and that they are given the opportunity to speak and use them often in a variety of contexts. Having educational opportunities in both languages is also one of the best ways to ensure long-term bilingual success.

7.a Which language should I use with my child if the language spoken in the school is different from the one spoken at home and he shows difficulties in both languages? Should we drop the home language and use only one language? What would happen if we, the parents, drop the home language, but the grandparents continue to use it with the child?

7.b Our five-year-old is bilingual and has been diagnosed with specific language impairment. We have been advised to speak only one language to him at home — the language of school. This will be difficult, since his older sister and brother speak two languages and we are a bilingual family. Should we follow this advice?

It is unfortunate that this kind of advice is so commonly given to parents of bilingual children with language delays, language impairment, and other language or learning disabilities, including reading problems. This advice comes from a widely held belief that learning two languages is beyond the capacity of children affected with language or language-related learning disorders, and continued use of two languages will exacerbate their problems. In our experience, many healthcare practitioners and educators believe that eliminating one of the two languages is an essential part of the “therapy” bilingual children with language disorders need.

It is important for us to state clearly and directly that there is no research evidence to support these beliefs. On the contrary, children with language disorders can and do become bilingual. There are numerous documented cases of children with severe intellectual disabilities, like Down Syndrome, who have become bilingual, or children with autism becoming bilingual, and of children with specific language impairment or dyslexia becoming bilingual speakers and readers. In fact, the children described above in question (6) are evidence of this because they already speak two languages, even though they have language-learning difficulties.

Bilingual children with specific language impairment will learn both their languages more slowly than monolinguals, and their ultimate abilities in both languages will have some limitations, but importantly, the limitations tend to be similar to monolinguals affected with specific language impairment. In other words, growing up bilingually does not make specific language impairment worse.

Another consideration is the family and community context. If the family is already bilingual, and perhaps the community as well, it would be difficult to make a child monolingual in this environment. Not to mention how that child would miss out on the full dual identity other family and community members enjoy, or on the opportunity to have a close relationship with their grandparents, which could lead to feelings of isolation and inadequacy. In the case of children whose language learning difficulties stem from developmental disorders like Down Syndrome and autism, it is even more important that they learn both the language of the healthcare and education systems, and the language of their parents since their parents are likely to be their primary caregivers and social-linguistic interlocutors for a long time. Therefore, there is no good reason to change the use of language in the home from two to one for a child who has specific language impairment or other language or learning disorders.

That being said, the child himself might prefer one language over the other language, and consequently develop more proficiency in one versus the other. However, we have no evidence that bilingual children with specific language impairment are more likely to do this than bilingual children with normal language development.

8. We planned for our son to attend an immersion school where he can learn through a second language — different from the language we speak at home — and grow up bilingually. But our son has been diagnosed with specific language impairment. Does this mean he is not a good candidate for immersion education?

There is scant research evidence on how well children with specific language impairment do in immersion schooling, where children learn their content subjects through a second language, a different language from the one spoken at home. But existing research found that English-speaking children with language delays in French immersion schools in Canada had academic achievements similar to English-speaking children with delays in English-only schools. Therefore, learning through a second language did not diminish the academic success of the affected children; however, children affected with language delays/disorders do not tend to excel academically.

What about children’s language development when they are in immersion schooling? We know less about this, but there is research on children with specific language impairment who go to school in their second language because they are from immigrant families, and so education in the second language is not a choice for parents to make. This research shows that they develop fluency in the second language, although they show limitations in their abilities in the second language as a consequence of having specific language impairment. These children are also not more at risk for losing their first language than other immigrant children.

It is important to recognize that whether bilingualism is a necessity or a choice could make a difference. In the case of your son, bilingualism is a choice, and as such, demands a certain commitment from the parents and the child. It also demands a commitment from the school to provide any language and academic supports your child might need to succeed. Therefore, even though there is no evidence that a child with specific language impairment cannot learn a second language through school, parents need to ask whether all parties concerned have the interest, motivation, time, and resources to enable the child to succeed in this kind of educational environment.

9. My daughter is fluent in her home language but finds it difficult to acquire the school language. Could there be a delay (impairment) in the second language only?

Language delay and specific language impairment are developmental disorders. This means that they originate with the children and are a consequence of some disruptions in early neurodevelopment, and the propensity for them can be inherited. One difference between language delay and specific language impairment is that many children with early language delay resolve and normalize by school entry, while children affected with specific language impairment start out with language delay, but continue to have difficulties in oral language into the school age years.

Language learning, whether for a first or second language, would be affected by a developmental language disorder. It is not possible for a bilingual with specific language impairment to have symptoms in one language and not another.

However, all bilinguals, with normal or impaired language, can have one language that is more proficient than the other, but this should not be mistaken for some kind of “selective” language impairment. If your child seems to be experiencing difficulties in learning in his/her second language, this most likely has an environmental cause. If the school language is not the community language, and the child’s only contact with that language is at school, it can take them at least one to two years to show real fluency in that language. Alternatively, if child is learning the community language at school alongside peers who are monolingual in that language, the child may appear to have difficulties because he/she is being compared unfairly to monolinguals.

It can take about 3-5 years in school for bilingual children to have similar oral language proficiency as monolinguals in the school language. Other potential factors causing difficulties in learning the school language could be lack of motivation, academic problems, or whether the child is inherently a “talented” language learner. But impairment in the second language only is not a possible explanation.

10. When can specific language impairment be diagnosed in sequential bilinguals? How long should they be exposed to the second language?

(Please also see the answer to question 8.) It can take 3-5 years in school for children to have oral language proficiency in their second language on a par with their monolingual peers, and it can take 5-7 years for them to have academic language skills, including reading and writing, on a par with their monolingual peers. Because it takes such a long time for these children to have full proficiency in the second language, this raises issues for early and effective identification of children with specific language impairment.

If clinicians wait until second language children have had adequate exposure, they will under-identify children with specific language impairment at the ages when they are in need of therapy. After all, the earlier the identification, the earlier therapy can be given. The opposite problem is “over-identification”, where too many normal second language children are mistaken as having specific language impairment because of their incomplete second language abilities.

There are some strategies for assessment that can be employed to avoid the problems of under- and over-identification. First, since language impairment always manifests in both languages of a bilingual, obtaining information on a child’s first language history and current abilities, either through direct observation or through parent report, would be important. The child should show signs of language delay and impairment in their first language. Second, when interpreting evaluations of the child’s performance in the second language, use other bilingual children as the comparison group, and not monolinguals, unless the child has had between 3-5 years of full time exposure in school to that language.

Both of these strategies would lead to more accurate diagnoses, but we need to emphasize that until complete bilingual norms, categorized according to exposure time to that language, are available for tests used with these children, identification of sequential bilingual children with specific language impairment is always going to be less accurate than with monolingual children.

 

Speech Language Therapists

These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and their answers were prepared by Johanne Paradis (University of Alberta) in collaboration with several members of COST Action IS0804.website: http://www.bi-sli.org/Clinicians-and-Educators.htm

They are  slowly producing translations which for the time being can be downloaded as PDF files:

French | Norwegian | Polish | Slovak

 

PLEASE ALSO CONSULT THE RECOMMENDATIONS THAT APPEAR ON THE IALP WEBSITE

 

1. I see many infants and toddlers in the clinic who are exposed to two languages at home.

Does being exposed to two languages delay their development?

There is a great deal of evidence that infants and young children can learn two languages very successfully. The early milestones of language development happen at the same time for children who learn one language or two. For example, they babble the same way as monolingual infants, they produce their first words around their first birthday (the typical range is roughly 10-14 months), and begin to combine words into two- or three-word “sentences” around two years of age (the typical range is roughly 18-26 months).

As bilingual children grow older, there are some differences between their language use and growth when compared to monolingual children, but these differences are completely normal. They should not be a cause for concern or considered a risk factor for language delays and disorders. For example, bilingual children may mix their two languages together in one sentence (see question 4 in the FAQ for parents), and they may be more proficient in one of their languages than the other in terms of their vocabulary and grammar. The language they are more proficient in is usually the language they speak and hear the most. Given enough time and exposure, they will catch up in their less proficient language.

In the preschool and early school-age years, bilingual children often have smaller vocabularies in each language than monolinguals, but if their two vocabularies are combined, and all the words that are translation equivalents removed, bilinguals have similar or larger vocabularies than monolinguals their own age. Over time in school, bilinguals often, but not always, close the vocabulary gap with monolinguals, in at least one of their languages.

Bilingual children in the older preschool and early school age years may take a little longer than monolinguals to perfect the finer points of their languages. For example, in English, the past tense includes numerous irregular verbs, dig – dug, sing – sang, catch – caught, as well as verbs that take “-ed” for the past tense, talk – talked, help – helped. When English is one language of a bilingual child, that child might make more errors with the irregular verbs than monolingual English-speaking children the same age by saying “digged” instead of “dug” or “catched” instead of “caught”. Again, with time and sufficient exposure to English, particularly written English in school, bilingual children will eventually perfect these finer points of the language.

2. What should I recommended to the parents of a bilingual child diagnosed with SLI about language use at home and in school? I think I should advise them to drop one of the two languages, so their child can concentrate his efforts on just one language. Is this the best advice?

It is unfortunate that this kind of advice, however well-intentioned, is so commonly given to parents of bilingual children with language delays, language impairment, and other language or learning disabilities, including reading problems. As mentioned in the question, this advice comes from a widely-held common-sense notion that learning two languages is beyond the capacity of children affected with language or language-related learning disorders, and continued use of two languages will exacerbate their problems. In our experience, many healthcare practitioners and educators believe that eliminating one of the two languages is an essential part of the “therapy” bilingual children with language disorders need. It is important for us to state clearly and directly that there is no research evidence to support these common-sense notions. On the contrary, children with language disorders can and do become bilingual. There are numerous documented cases of children with severe intellectual disabilities, like Down Syndrome, who have become bilingual, of children with autism becoming bilingual, and children with specific language impairment or dyslexia becoming bilingual speakers and readers. Bilingual children with specific language impairment will learn both their languages more slowly than monolinguals, and their ultimate abilities in both languages will have some limitations, but importantly, the limitations tend to be similar to monolinguals affected with specific language impairment. In other words, growing up bilingual does not make specific language impairment worse. Another consideration is the family and community context. If the family is already bilingual, and perhaps the community as well, it would be difficult to make one child in this milieu monolingual. Not to mention how that child would miss out on the full dual identity other family and community members enjoy, or on the opportunity have a close relationship with their grandparents, which could lead to feelings of isolation and inadequacy. In the case of children whose language learning difficulties stem from developmental disorders like Down Syndrome and autism, it is even more important that they learn both the language of the healthcare and education systems, and the language of their parents since their parents are likely to be their primary caregivers and social-linguistic interlocutors for a long time. Therefore, there is no good reason to suggest changing the use of language in the home from two to one for a child who has specific language impairment or other language or learning disorders.

3. What should I recommended to the parents of a child diagnosed with SLI about school choices? If the parents want to send their child to bilingual or immersion school, should I discourage them for doing this on the grounds that their child might do poorly academically if he has to learn through another language?

There is scant research evidence on how well children with specific language impairment do in bilingual or immersion schooling – where children learn their content subjects entirely or partially through their second language, a different language from the one spoken at home. But, existing research found that English-speaking children with language delays in French immersion schools in Canada had academic achievements similar to English-speaking children with delays in English-only schools. Therefore, learning through a second language did not diminish the academic success of the affected children; however children affected with language delays/disorders do not tend to excel academically. What about children’s language development when they are in immersion schooling? We know less about this, but there is research on children with specific language impairment who go to school in their second language because they are from immigrant families, and so education in the second language is not a choice for parents to make. This research shows that they develop fluency in the second language, although they show limitations in their abilities in the second language as a consequence of having specific language impairment. These children are also not more at risk for losing their first language than other immigrant children. It is important to recognize that whether bilingualism is a necessity or a choice could make a difference. In the case of your son, bilingualism is a choice, and as such, demands a certain commitment from the parents and the child. It also demands a commitment from the school to provide any language and academic supports your child might need to succeed. Therefore, even though there is no evidence that a child with specific language impairment cannot learn a second language through school, parents need to ask whether all parties concerned have the interest, motivation, time, and resources to enable the child to succeed in this kind of educational environment.

4. Which language should be used in therapy? The dominant language? The society language? Both?

The short answer to this question is that giving therapy in both languages is widely-considered to be the best practice. Because bilingual children with language impairment show weakness in both their languages, both their languages can benefit from the focused practice provided in therapy. However, for a variety of reasons, dual language therapy might not be feasible, e.g., the therapists doesn’t speak one of the child’s languages, or the therapist is giving therapy in a school where only one language is viewed as appropriate for therapy. If therapy is only given in one language which one should be chosen? It is likely that the therapist speaks the societal language, and if this is not the bilingual child’s dominant language, this mismatch is unfortunate, and therapy could be more limiting for the child, but it is still beneficial for the child to go ahead with the therapy. The child’s proficiency in the societal language is only likely to grow with time, and the necessity to gain as much proficiency as possible in this language is clear. If the language of the therapy is in the child’s dominant language, so much the better. Single language therapy might have more benefits than it seems on the surface. This is because bilingual children can transfer or share some of their language learning skills, like phonological awareness and verbal working memory, conceptual knowledge, and metacognitive strategies between their languages. Thus, developing these skills in one language, could also help develop them in the other. However, there is less evidence to date that very language-specific aspects of the lexical and morpho-syntactic inventories are so closely interconnected between the languages that very specific target in therapy would automatically be shared with the other language.

 

ADULTS WITH  APHASIA

For the family

...My father of 75 who was a Turkish-English bilingual speaker recently had a
stroke. Should we look for a bilingual Speech Therapist to work with him.? He lives in USA..

Answer:It will probably be difficult to find a bilingual therapist. Therapy in English will probably help his recovery in Turkish as well. The speech therapist will consult with your father and/or his family about the options to treat in Turkish

 

Speech language therapist  (  prepared by Jose Centeno ,St. John's University

Queens, NY 11439)

 

1. Do bilinguals (speakers of two languages) and multilinguals (speakers of more than two languages) with aphasia always recover the first language they learned or their most dominant language before the aphasia better than their second or weaker language?
 
NO. When persons who are bilingual or multilingual speakers before a stroke experience aphasia after a cerebral lesion, they generally recover their languages in parallel. That is, they exhibit similar aphasic symptoms in both languages and recover these languages to the same extent they knew them before the stroke. The dominance profile before the stroke still remains: the dominant language still is dominant and the weaker language remains weak. However, many other differential patterns contrasting with the most frequent parallel profile may occur. In these additional recovery patterns, there may be unequal restitution of the languages known by the person before the cerebral damage, different aphasic symptoms in the languages, or unusual expressive use of the languages, such as involuntary mixing.
 
2. Is it important to know the language history of bilingual/multilingual persons before the aphasia to understand their aphasic symptoms?

YES. Knowledge of how bilingual and multilingual persons with aphasia acquired, learned, and used their languages before the aphasia is crucial to interpret their aphasic impairments. An interview protocol administered to the client’s relatives and, if possible, each client to explore life experiences in each language (age of acquisition and use at home as well as in school and work) and proficiency before the stroke is necessary. Very importantly, an accurate distinction between genuine disorders due to the aphasia and typical language and communication abilities of the speaker prior to the cerebral lesion cannot be made without having information on the pre-morbid knowledge and proficiency in each language the person had before the aphasia. Essentially, limited proficiency and knowledge in a language prior to the aphasia should not be misinterpreted as an aphasic symptom after the cerebral insult.

3. Does culture have an impact on aphasia services?

YES. Attitudes to the aphasic impairments and disposition to clinical services may be shaped by the cultural background of a person with aphasia and his/her relatives and friends. For example, the aphasia experienced by a person may be seen as “punishment from past behaviors” thus minimizing motivation to therapy from the client and/or his/her family. Similarly, rather than seeking professional services, relatives may use “home remedies” to help recovery. It is important to bear in mind, however, that culturally-shaped behaviors and attitudes are not equally manifested among all members of an ethnic group. While some individuals from the group may be very conservative in their cultural attitudes and beliefs, others may have different dispositions shaped by other cultural influences.