Should children with language disorders still be brought up multilingually?

3 February 2016

In January we published Multilingual Perspectives on Child Language Disorders edited by Janet L. Patterson and Barbara L. Rodríguez which explores the issues surrounding multilingual children with various language disorders. In this post, the editors explain how the book will be useful for speech-language pathologists as well as researchers in the field.

Multilingual Perspectives on Child Language DisordersWhat good timing! Two questions addressed in our edited volume, Multilingual Perspectives on Child Language Disorders, appeared on an American Speech-Language and Hearing Association discussion board in the same week the book was published. The first was from a speech-language pathologist (SLP) seeking research to share with parents who have been told NOT to speak Spanish (the home language) to their children and “stick to English” in order reduce the language processing demands on their children. The SLP was concerned that this misguided advice was being given to families of children with Down syndrome by personnel in more than one school district. Four days later another SLP asked for research and advice on counseling the parents of a 2-year-old girl who may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The parents had planned to raise their daughter bilingually (Dutch and English), but they wondered if they should speak only English to their daughter in view of her significant communication delays. These questions are specifically addressed in chapters on bilingualism and Down syndrome (by Mandy Kay Raining-Bird) and bilingualism and ASD (Stefka Marinova-Todd and Pat Mirenda).

We hope our book will prove to be a useful resource for SLPs and for researchers interested in cross-linguistic work in child language disorders. The chapter authors conduct research and provide services across the globe. The book includes chapters on language disorders among bilingual and multilingual children with specific language impairment, as well as a variety of developmental disabilities, and monolingual children who speak languages other than English.

Collaborating with the contributing authors has been a great experience. We have enjoyed learning about diverse topics including cross-linguistic research on Williams syndrome (Vesna Stojanovik), the challenges multilingual children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) face and evidence-based intervention approaches (John Thorne and Truman Coggins), manifestations of specific language impairment, dyslexia and ASD in Cantonese-speaking children (Carol To), and a framework for providing early intervention services to multilingual families with a focus on North Indian-speaking families in London (Jane Stokes and Nita Madhani), as well as chapters on assessment considerations and tools developed for use with children who speak French (Elin Thordardottir), Turkish (Seyhun Topbaş and Ïlknur Maviş), and Spanish (Barbara Rodríguez).

We were struck by the common themes and patterns that emerged among authors who work with such different populations and typologically diverse languages. Many authors highlighted the need for assessment tools that focus on key structures for the language being tested and the need for assessment tools that are diagnostically accurate.  Although the specific structures vary across languages, several authors are conducting research to address the global need for language-appropriate assessments. In addition, assessments for some children need to include complex discourse demands (FASD) and detailed examination of specific skills, such as certain areas of pragmatics, morphology, and use of intonation patterns (Williams syndrome). In the area of treatment, several authors highlighted the importance of adapting intervention to include culturally congruent practices. The value of cross-linguistic research for understanding the nature of language disorders associated with specific syndromes also was highlighted in several chapters. Although the chapters in Multilingual Perspectives on Child Language Disorders do not cover every language and every situation, we are confident the book provides researchers and clinicians with a broad-based perspective on child language disorders that supports evidence-based practice and stimulates further research.

CDAL covers 2For further information on the book please see our website. You might also be interested in other titles in our Communication Disorders Across Languages series such as Assessing Multilingual Children and Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children.


Assessing Multilingual Children

8 April 2015

This month we are publishing Assessing Multilingual Children edited by Sharon Armon-Lotem, Jan de Jong and Natalia Meir. In this post, Sharon tells us how the book came together.

Assessing Multilingual ChildrenAt the turn of the millennium, I was intrigued by an observation of a preschool supervisor who told me: “Bilingual children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) are the worst.” I knew by then of the growing evidence for the advantages of bilingualism. I also realized that Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) often recommend to parents of bilingual children with SLI to use just one language with the child, often the societal language. As I was looking for scientific evidence for the supervisor’s claim and for the SLTs’ recommendation, the research community around me thought that I was nuts. I was warned that studying SLI (a term used for children showing primary difficulty in acquiring language in the absence of other delays) was difficult. Studying bilingualism was even more of a challenge, as the population is heterogeneous. Why complicate life and study bilingual SLI (later termed BiSLI)?

There were many reasons.

From the societal perspective, the identification of SLI in children growing up in bilingual contexts poses a major challenge for researchers, and has clear clinical and educational repercussions: How do we know if a child’s language difficulties are due to SLI or to insufficient exposure to the language being assessed?

From the scientific perspective, the reported similarity calls for an explanation. What is it in the language development of these two populations that, at times, makes them look indistinguishable? Is there a theoretical or even empirical basis to what that supervisor said, and to the SLTs’ recommendations?

I was not discouraged by the reactions, but it felt lonely. I knew there were a few researchers in Canada and the US who struggled with this problem and one research group in Scandinavia. This was not much. And then, in 2004, I received an email from Jan de Jong (my co-editor). He was planning a mini-workshop on BiSLI (the term was coined by the Amsterdam group). I was not alone in this endeavor for disentangling bilingualism and SLI anymore. Following that workshop, our group of researchers began meeting at conferences to continue the discussions over dinner or lunch and gradually grew into a small community.

This was when the idea of applying for a COST Action emerged. We wanted to have our own meetings focused on the study of BiSLI. COST (Cooperation in Science & Technology see www.cost.eu) was the perfect framework for it. COST supports networking and cooperation among researchers across Europe. It helps bring together scholars to jointly develop new initiatives. A COST Action is such a network. We were fortunate to get one to study BiSLI.

In 2009 COST Action IS0804 “Language Impairment in a Multilingual Society: Linguistics Patterns and the Road to Assessment” (www.bi-sli.org) started its meetings. Our community grew. We became friends bound by a joint quest. We wanted to have a better grasp of the source of the similarity and figure out how bilingualism impacts the manifestation of SLI. We aimed at providing SLTs with better diagnostic tools. The outcome of this quest, dubbed LITMUS– Language Impairment Testing in Multilingual Setting, is presented in this book.

And if you ask yourselves whether the supervisor was right? No, she was wrong! Bilingual children with SLI are not the worst. Bilingual children are often misdiagnosed as having language impairment and treated for what is bilingual typical language development. In fact numerous studies repeatedly show that children with BiSLI are not different from monolingual children with SLI in their linguistic performance. This further implies that there is no need to stop a child with BiSLI from using one of her languages as there is no evidence that bilingualism aggravates the impairment.

Following this book of tools, we further plan a book of findings to corroborate the above recommendations.

For further information about this book please see our website.


Author interview with Deirdre Martin

10 January 2014

A few months ago, we published Deirdre Martin’s latest volume Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual Settings. We recently caught up with Deirdre and asked her a few questions about her research.

Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual SettingsHow did you first come to research dyslexia in multilingual contexts?

I have been both drawn and driven to researching dyslexia in multilingual contexts. I have been interested for many years in language and communication disabilities in multilingual contexts. Language and meaning making are the bedrock of literacy practices and literacy skills in reading and writing. So I was very curious to take the next step to research difficulties in literacy skills, also known as dyslexia. Dyslexia usually emerges most noticeably in the early years of formal schooling when children are taught literacy skills in reading, writing and spelling. I was driven – very willingly- to researching dyslexia in multilingual contexts by the global increase in multilingual learners being introduced to English literacy skills. For example, many countries now introduce English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English literacy skills to young learners, and from another perspective ‘superdiverse’ global population movements to the UK, EU and elsewhere, have brought multilingual learners into largely monolingual schools, creating multilingual contexts. Research is needed in these multilingual contexts to understand dyslexia-type difficulties.

Why are there so many disciplines involved in this type of research?

Dyslexia is a complex weave of the natural and the cultural, and these two main areas of knowledge require different approaches to investigation. Understanding dyslexia as a dichotomised study is essential. During the hundred years and more of researching dyslexia different branches of study have emerged to examine the multifaceted nature of dyslexia, taking account of the changing contexts of languages, literacy practices and skills and most recently digital. For example, a biological approach explains dyslexia through medical, neurological and genetic study; psychological studies understand dyslexia through cognitive processing skills and personality. Critical, social and cultural studies have opened up the field to even more concepts of the ‘situatedness’ of dyslexia. Yet there is a great need to develop rigorous informed research study in areas of pedagogy and intervention.

Why is your book different from others in the field that have been published before?

It offers a bird’s eye view of different understandings of dyslexia. This edited volume focuses on methodology, that is, the approaches to creating different knowledges adopted by different disciplines in their studies of dyslexia. Books and journals on dyslexia usually publish studies that share one approach and a set of procedures to creating knowledge. This volume includes a range of approaches and methods to engage readers in the different ways of knowing and understanding dyslexia. Readers can be better equipped to select research methods and findings for their purposes, to inform their own research studies in dyslexia.

Who do you hope will find your book interesting/useful?

I hope that this volume will be interesting and useful to professionals, researchers and parents for different reasons. I hope that those in professional development such as trainee teachers, EAL and EFL specialists, speech/language therapists and psychologists are persuaded of the complexity of the phenomenon of dyslexia. Similarly, I would imagine that novice researchers, such as undergraduates, masters students and new doctoral students, would be impressed by the disciplinary scope and methodological breadth of the study of dyslexia.

I hope that more experienced researchers identify with an approach to understanding dyslexia that they want to develop and create new ways of understanding dyslexia in multilingual settings. Parents encountering dyslexia for the first time may find so many perspectives on dyslexia bewildering! Nevertheless, I hope that multilingual families find it helpful for their needs when they talk to teachers and other professionals about multilingual literacy difficulties. Perhaps there is a further group – multilingual speakers with dyslexia – who may find this book fascinating.

Which other researchers in your field do you particularly admire?

I admire colleagues who have engaged in researching literacy practices and skills in other languages and other places so that we can understand the complexity of literacy/ies – for example Brian Street and Gunter Kress. I take my hat off to those who have published prolifically in the field of dyslexia and, more recently, included multilingual contexts, such as Gavin Reid and his colleagues. The research in multilingual and multicultural literacy pedagogy by colleagues such as Viv Edwards, Naz Rassool, Eve Gregory and Charmian Keener, has been instrumental in changing our perceptions and practices. Most of all I just love reading the work of these colleagues – I continue to find new insights and new meaning in their work.

What is your next research project?

I have projects running with my doctoral students studying in the field of dyslexia in multilingual contexts and multilingual dyslexia. I am very interested in studying multimodality – such as digital literacy skills and practices – with multilingual young people with low literacy skills.

Language Disabilities in Cultural and Linguistic DiversityIf you found this interesting you can find more information about the book here. You might also be interested in Deirdre’s other book Language Disabilities in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity.


Communication Disorders Across Languages

17 January 2013

International Perspectives on Voice DisordersOur Communication Disorders Across Languages series covers all aspects of speech and communication disorders focusing both on specific languages (such as Finnish, Spanish, Turkish, Chinese) and also on the multilingual aspects of voice disorders, aphasia and other speech sound disorders.

The latest book in this series, International Perspectives on Voice Disorders edited by Edwin M-L. Yiu, comes out this week and provides a state-of-the-art account of voice research and issues in clinical voice practice. This book is the first of its kind bringing together cutting-edge research and clinic-based practice.

Robert T. Sataloff, M.D., of Drexel University College of Medicine, USA, calls the book “an exceptional compendium of insights and opinions provided by voice experts from around the world.” He claims that it “provides a unique vision of current concepts in voice care and research, as well as guidance on questions that require future study.”

The series is edited by Nicole Müller and Martin Ball who are based at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and are both experts in communication disorders and multilingualism and who assess each book as it comes in.

This latest book is the 9th volume in the series and you can see the list of all books in the series below:

Books on general aspects of language disorders:
Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children edited by Sharynne McLeod and Brian Goldstein
Multilingual Aspects of Fluency Disorders edited by Peter Howell and John Van Borsel
Assessing Grammar edited by Martin Ball, David Crystal and Paul Fletcher
Aspects of Multilingual Aphasia edited by Martin R. Gitterman, Mira Goral and Loraine K. Obler

Books on language disorders in specific languages:
Communication Disorders in Turkish edited by Seyhun Topbaş and Mehmet Yavaş
Language Disorders in Speakers of Chinese edited by Sam-Po Law, Brendan Weekes and Anita M-Y Wong
Research in Logopedics edited by Anu Klippi and Kaisa Launonen
Communication Disorders in Spanish Speakers edited by José G. Centeno, Raquel T. Anderson and Loraine K. Obler

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