USU Researcher Develops New Method For Identifying Language Impairments In Bilingual Children

Dec 12, 2013

One Utah State University researcher has found a way to better identify language impairments in bilingual children through English language testing. It can be difficult to identify delayed language development in bilingual children, who show impairments in both of the languages they speak.

A new testing method may help to more easily identify language impairments in bilingual children.
Credit NYC Department of Education

Older methods identified problems by testing children bilingually, but USU professor Ronald Gillam said this method has limits.

“This idea that we should do testing in both languages a person speaks in order to decide if somebody is having a language impairment works okay for English and Spanish as long as you can find a bilingual person to do the testing, but it sure doesn’t work very well for the hundreds of other second languages that are spoken by kids in our schools,” Gillam said.

Gillam tested over 1,000 bilingual children for language delays in both English and Spanish. After following the children’s progress over a few years, he identified kids who had language impairments in both languages.

Gillam then attempted to find a way recognize these kids from just their English test scores.

“Then we looked back at our English testing and said, ‘Is there any way that we can set cutoff scores in our English testing that would predict which kids are going to be language impaired in both English and Spanish,’” Gillam said.

Simply looking at percentile ranking on test scores couldn’t predict delays, so Gillam developed a mathematical equation that could.

“That cut score, on this likelihood of impairment from our equation, did a good job of saying, ‘These are the kids who aren’t impaired and these are the kids who are,’” Gillam explained.

English-only testing methods for bilingual children are only growing in importance, as more than half of children in U.S. schools are expected to be bilingual in coming years.

Gillam’s research on language impairment in bilingual children was published in the December issue of the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.