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Kathy Kohnert: Bilingual Language Development

Kathy Kohnert: Bilingual Language Development


Generally speaking, no. If there’s not
a problem in the first language, we wouldn’t expect that it’s a problem
in the second language. That is, for bilingual individuals,
communication disorders typically manifest or show up in both languages. That’s it, so if a child has developed
Spanish on par and in a timely manner, consistent with that of their peers, then we wouldn’t expect a
problem with English; or we wouldn’t expect struggles with English
to be attributed to communication disorders. For example, if you have a classroom
full of fifth grade children who speak English as their first
and primary language, and they’re in a classroom where they’re
learning French as a second language, we would expect lots of different
variations or abilities. Some kids would pick up French
very quickly and very easily; other children may struggle with it. But we wouldn’t anticipate
that the struggle was due to a communication disorder, per se. So generally speaking,
if there’s a problem in the first language, there’s a problem
in the second language. However, if they’re struggling
with the second language that does not necessarily mean that
there is a problem with the first language. And that’s when the process of
response-to-intervention can come into play to help with
a little bit of the vetting. Well historically,
parents who recently immigrated here were really told to stop speaking English — or stop speaking their home language — and speak only English
with their children. And this recognized importance of English
and English for educational attainment, for higher incomes, for engagement,
and all aspects of American life. So it recognized the
prominence of English. However, it really doesn’t —
it discounts the importance of home language. And we know now
that parents really should be supported to parent in the language
in which they feel most comfortable. We know that children
have the capacity to develop two languages, or more, proficiently. We know that developing the
first language actually paves the way for greater skill in English,
instead of taking away from it. So we really should support the
home language along with English for children with
immigrant parents. So the short answer to that question,
that is, should we use more than one language with a child with a
communication disorder, is, absolutely. If the child has two languages
in their daily life and they rely on two languages for
meaningful interactions with others, then we should absolutely
support both languages. We’ve learned quite a bit over
the last few years and one is that two languages,
or exposure or experience to two languages does not cause a communication disorder
in any way, shape, or form. Reducing or eliminating one
language from the life of that child also
will not reduce or cure or even mitigate
the communication disorder. We also know that bilingual children
can have a variety of communication disorders, or to put that reverse,
we can have children with Autism, children with Down syndrome,
children with hearing impairments, children with developmental
language impairments, who can be bilingual
and they can develop two languages on par with monolingual children
with similar disabilities. We also know that we should support
the languages that are needed by the child and support the language in which
their parents speak, as well as the community language. So should we provide support
in both languages? Absolutely.

1 comment on “Kathy Kohnert: Bilingual Language Development

  1. This is an interesting topic and speaker. I wish I could hear it! There is a lot of background noise and my laptop volume is all the way up. This is ironic since ASHA is posting the video..

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