Latinos, Bilingualism and More:
What Speech-Language
Pathologists Should Know
Paul H. Matthews, Ph.D.
October 2006
Special Education Issues
• Latino students are overrepresented in programs
for students with
disabilities nationally
• Generally underrepresented in Georgia
• WHY?
• 12.7% of US Latinos aged
6-21 are reported to have
a speech or language
impairment (2001)
What Do We Know about
• Challenge in defining “bilingualism”
because depends on MANY factors,
including: age of acquisition, functional
ability, relationship between languages,
context of acquisition, stages in life,
circumstances leading to bilingualism.
(Valdes & Figueroa)
• Parental attitudes and language use also
“Language Loss”
• Bilinguals usually have a dominant language;
balanced bilingualism is rare
• L1 can be lost, esp. when submerged into L2
• Influences:
language status,
domains of use,
size of language community,
school language,
birth order and family roles,
peer interactions, etc.
“Language Loss”
• Language attrition also occurs, where L1 is not
lost but no progress is being made.
• Declining use of L1 due to social and envir.
pressures may look similar to language
– decreased use of complex clauses,
– lexical loss,
– deletion of morphological markers or regularization of
– syntactic transfer
Bilingual ≠ 2 Monolinguals!
• Bilingualism is qualitatively different from
• Different brain organization (esp. early
bilingualism), different competencies, different
needs: must look at individual holistically
• L2 knowledge may actually
change use & judgments
of syntax in L1
• Differences in speed and
skill on different tasks
• “Multicompetence” (Cook)
Difference and Disorder
• Bilinguals often slower in first producing speech,
but then “catch up” rapidly and often surpass
English-only peers
• Slower response times may be due to
bilingualism rather than a specific language
impairment (SLI). Words may be mediated
initially through L1 lexicon, then eventually
directly through concepts.
• Transfer of some ‘rules’ from one language to
another—e.g., mandatory use of subject
pronouns; word order cues versus verb
agreement cues.
Difference and Disorder: Lexicon
• Total vocabulary of bilingual
children at a given age is
generally the same as for
monolingual children, but is
distributed across 2 languages:
• Total Vocabulary= Language A + Language B
• Total Conceptual Vocabulary = Language A +
Language B – translation equivalents
• One study found an average of 30%
of translation equivalents in
vocabulary for toddlers who are
simultaneous bilinguals, less for kids
who have separate domains of use
Difference and Disorder: Lexicon
• Apparently, up until a critical mass is reached, amount of
input determines vocabulary, and after that no difference
between kids in English-only and bilingual programs in
English vocabulary
• Input correlates especially for content words (nouns,
verbs, adjectives) but not for function words (articles,
prepositions, etc.)
Difference and Disorder: Phonology
& Morphology
• Phonemic differences
– Allophones like /j/ /dz/ /sh/
– Distinct phonemes like trilled and regular r
– More phonemes in English, esp. for vowels
• Different morphophonology
– Word-initial s+consonant -> /es/
• Non-standard dialects come into play, both in Spanish
and in English
– Caribbean deletion of /s/ at end of syllable
– Word choice variable based on country
• Morphology problems may be language acquisition
issue rather than disability (e.g. –s or –ed left off)
• Prepositions: In Spanish, different prepositions used,
plus verbs may not use preposition (e.g., se bajó)
Difference and Disorder: Fluency,
• Code-switching is sometimes misdiagnosed as
stuttering: processing demands
– Stuttering never shown in only 1 of 2 languages
– No evidence of more frequent code-switching for SLI
• Cultural norms too—e.g.:
– less reliance on known-answer questions
– less frequent use of running
narrative of activity
– importance of respect
– topic-associative discourse
Assessment Issues &
• “Examine aspects of each speech and language
under various conditions with different
interlocutors and then examine direction and
rate of speech and language change
• Examine variations in performance and error
• Understand the circumstances for acquisition,
including the nature and rate of input and output
• Obtain a detailed language history noting input
and output”
(Goldstein, 2004, pp. 7-8)
Assessment Issues &
• Need to assess across both languages and
different domains
• Testing by bilingual personnel
• Language “dominance” is not a sufficient
determination for testing
• “Standardized” tests are likely not normed on
this population, and even ones geared towards
bilinguals may not account for the wide variation
in “bilinguals”
• Current tests inadequate, but no good solutions
Assessment Issues &
• Vocabulary tests that are based on item difficulty
are problematic, as are frequency of occurrence
across dialect of Spanish
• Semantic and MLU complexity measures usually
different across languages
• Can use parents as resource, e.g., comparing to
older siblings and L1 to L2
• Parental concern about speech/language
problems, coupled with number of grammatical
errors per sentence were best predictors of SLI
(Restrepo): 0.18 errors per sentence was cutoff.
Assessment Issues &
• Some areas of SLI for
Spanish speakers:
– Article errors (el/la)
– gender agreement
– clitic pronouns (indirect
object & direct object
– verb agreement errors
• Need 95% of vocabulary items to be able to infer
meaning of unknown words. So high-frequency
words should be intervention targets.
Vocabulary Development
• Free Voluntary Reading Campaigns
– Set target, base on choice & variety
• Reading Aloud
– 4-5 days/week, in person or on tape
– Include pre-, during-, and post-reading talks
• Word Studies
– Finding patterns, principles, relationships
– Semantic families, structural families
– Tiered Vocabulary chart: everybody /
educated people / experts– show how words
used differently
Vocabulary Development
• Effective Vocabulary Instruction (e.g., lists)
– Teacher provides description or example
– Students restate in own words
– Students create nonlinguistic representation
– Periodic activities to help add to knowledge
– Periodic peer discussions of terms
– Periodic games to play with terms
(Marzano, 2004)
Vocabulary Development
• Vocabulary Instruction for ELLs
– Repeat chorally, in sub-groups, individually.
Teacher acts out, doodles, or gives example
– Write on board one at a time, pointing out
patterns, relationships to known words.
Students also repeat aloud again.
– In groups, students define in own words and
– Students look up and write down dictionary
definition and write original sentences
For More Information
• Genesee, Fred, Paradis, Johanne, & Crago, Martha B.
(2004). Dual language development and disorders: A
handbook on bilingualism and second language
learning. Communication and language intervention
series, Vol. 11. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co.
• Goldstein, Brian A. (Ed.) (2004). Bilingual language
development & disorders in Spanish-English speakers.
Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co.
Georgia Learning Connections: ESOL teacher’s guide to
SST and Special Education referrals

Latino Education in Georgia: Challenges and Possibilities