Find out in this Q&A with the authors of Dual Language Development and Disorders: A Handbook on Bilingualism and Second Language Learning, Second Edition.
About the authors
Johanne Paradis, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Alberta. In addition to her professional experience as a university professor, she taught English as a second language for 10 years.
Dr. Paradis has researched the language development of French-English bilingual children, both those with typical development and those with language impairment. She has also carried out extensive research on children from minority language backgrounds learning English as a second language.
Dr. Paradis is currently developing a web sitethe Child English Second Language Centrewhich consists of resources to assist in more effective assessment and identification of language impairment in dual language children.
Dr. Genesee is currently conducting research on individual differences in reading and language development in second language immersion programs in order to identify predictors of risk for reading and/or language disability in second language learners. He is also interested in simultaneous acquisition of two languages during early infancy and childhood.
Dr. Genesee's most recent research interests include internationally adopted children. This research focuses on the short- and long-term language development of adoptees from China and on what this can tell us about the effects of very early delays in exposure to a language on its acquisition.
Dr. Crago's research has focused on cross-linguistic and cross-cultural studies of the acquisition of Inuktitut, French, English, and Arabic across a variety of learners, including bilingual children as well as children with language impairments.
Dr. Crago is editor of Applied Psycholinguistics, and is Vice President of the International Association of Child Language.
Q: The new edition of your textbook Dual Language Development and Disorders updates us with the latest research and guidance on best practices in working with dual language learners. Who are dual language learners?
A: "Dual language learners" is a term we use for children who know and use two languages. It includes children who have learned two languages at home from birth, children who learned a first language and then were introduced to a second language at school, and all other possibilities in between. So, it includes early simultaneous bilinguals as well as second language learners.
In the book we discuss the results of research on a wide variety of dual language learners:
Q: What changes relating to dual language learners have SLPs and educators seen in the classroom and schools since your first edition published?
A: It is our impression that there is growing and overt concern for providing intervention and differentiated instruction for dual language learners with special needs, and for developing more appropriate assessment techniques for identifying language and learning disabilities in this population of children. This impression comes from the increasing number of invitations for us to speak and write on these topics.
Also, since the first edition of our book, there has been an enormous amount of new research on dual language learners and disorders. Therefore, in the second edition, we have been able to draw on a stronger and richer knowledge base in order to recommend evidence-based practices.
Q: What are some myths about dual language development?
A: Both parents and professionals alike are often concerned that early dual language development will cause confusion or delay, and is therefore not recommended for young children. The evidence we discuss in our book dispels these myths; bilingual children have the capacity to differentiate their two languages, and to acquire them in the same general timeframe as monolinguals.
Bilingual children have some unique developmental patterns, and their rates of development may vary between their two languages and be slightly different from monolinguals for very particular linguistic structures, but these differences with monolinguals should not warrant concern, and need to be better understood. In other words, bilingual is just a different kind of normal from monolingual.
Another very common myth about dual language children concerns second language learners. It is often believed that children who enter kindergarten not speaking or understanding much English will learn English very quickly"soak it up like a sponge"and rapidly become English speakers on a par with their monolingual peers.
There is a great deal of research evidence that shows children do not acquire equivalent second language skills to monolinguals very rapidly; to the contrary, it can take between 3 to 5 years. We believed that it was very important to dispel this myth in the book because often educators and clinicians have inappropriate expectations of the second language abilities of young children.
A related myth about second language learners is that children who come to school speaking a language other than the language of instruction will learn the majority/school language more quickly and better if they discontinue use and acquisition of the home language. The myth is that maintenance of a home language interferes with and impedes acquisition of a majority language in the context of schooling. However, there is growing and compelling evidence that maintenance of the home language can actually facilitate second language learning.
Q: What is important for professionals to understand about "code mixing"?
A: Code-mixingthe use of words and phrases from two languages together in one sentence is often viewed negatively as if it signals incompetence or confusion on the part of bilingual speaker. On the contrary, research has shown us that code-mixing by adult bilingual speakers is a very skillful use of languageit serves complex socio-pragmatic purposes and there are rules governing how sentences are formed when combining words from both languages.
When it comes to children, the research shows that even in the preschool years, young bilingual children's code-mixing is not random and that it does not reflect an inability to separate their languages. Young bilingual children might code-mix when speaking one language because they only know a certain word in the other languagebecause they have a lexical gap. Nevertheless, they have a great deal of sensitivity to the language preferences of the adults they are speaking with, and furthermore, the linguistic structure of their code-mixing shows they are following the rules for combining their two languages from as early as two and half years old.
All of this means that professionals need to realize that code-mixing is a natural and expected part of bilingual development; that it is actually a linguistic and communicative resource, and it should not to be sanctioned or viewed as a sign of language learning difficulties.
Q: How can a professional recognize when a language delay is the result of an actual disorder?
A: First, it is essential to highlight the fact that bilingualism does not put children at risk for language disorders. So, bilingualism is not a cause of language disorder and bilingualism does not typically result in pervasive and clinically significant delays in language development when the bilingual child has had substantial exposure to both languages.
The characteristics of language disorder in dual language children are essentially the same as they are in monolingual children. That being said, identification of language disorder in dual language children is more complex than in monolingual children for a variety of reasons
There is no "quick fix" to overcoming these barriers to recognizing when a dual language child actually has a language disorder.
However, in the book, we put forward some strategies for overcoming these barriers in order to arrive at more accurate assessments and identification of language disorders in dual language children. These strategies include
Q: It has been estimated that up to 20% of the school-age population may be affected by a reading impairment. What are some signs of a reading impairment?
A: In the book we identify the following characteristics of children who might have a reading impairment:
Q: Are there significant differences between reading impairment in a second-language learner and a child learning a single language?
A: Many of the behaviors exhibited by second-language and first-language children with reading impairment are often the same, as noted above. The differences lie in the possible reasons why second-language learners might be having difficulty learning to read; these differences include:
Q: The new edition of your book includes a chapter on internationally adopted children. What are some unique barriers to language development in internationally adopted children and how can those be minimized?
A: Adoptive families usually provide enriched environments that support adopted children's acquisition of their new language. This is the case because adopted children are often adopted by families with relatively high socio-economic status, high levels of education, and they may be single childrenall conditions that favor language learning in young children.
Any barriers they face in acquiring the new language are likely due to pre-adoption adversity or impoverishment which is associated with orphanage or foster care facilities that provide less than optimal conditions for early development. However, not all adopted children experience adverse or impoverished care pre-adoptively; nor do they experience impoverishment or adversity to the same extent. As a result, adopted children's prospects for successful acquisition of the new language need to be judged on a case-by-case basis.