Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Language Disorder or Difference? Assessing the Language Skills of Hispanic Students

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Language Disorder or Difference? Assessing the Language Skills of Hispanic Students

Article excerpt

Language Disorder or Difference? Assessing the Language Skills of Hispanic Students

ABSTRACT: Results from a study on current practices of Spanish-speaking speech and language

specialists are reported. Analyses of the data indicate that a heavy diagnostic emphasis continues

to be placed on the results of discrete-point tests. A protocol to assess limited-English-speaking

students suspected of a language or learning disability is offered. * The purpose of this article is threefold: (a) to suggest factors to be considered in determining whether there is a language disability in a student with limited English proficiency; (b) to review the results of a study on the current practices followed by bilingual speech and language pathologists practicing in the California public schools; and (c) to outline a protocol that may assist speech and language pathologists in assessing whether a student with limited English proficiency has a language or learning disability. A problem in language skills is referred to here as a "language disorder." A problem in learning is referred to as a "learning disability." Both terms are intimately related when a student has both language and learning problems; thus the student is described as having "language or learning disabilities."

LANGUAGE DISORDER VERSUS LANGUAGE DIFFERENCE

Because language performance is so intimately linked to academic success, the question of differentiating a language disorder from a bilingual, cross-cultural difference in a student with limited English proficiency is a crucial one for all specialists involved. The literature on the definition of a language disorder in bilingual or limited-English-speaking students is difficult to interpret (Ambert, 1986; Langdon, 1977, 1983; Linares-Orama, 1977; Merino 1983a). These studies indicate, however, that if a language disorder is manifested in the primary language, it will also be reflected in the second language. Furthermore, all studies stress the importance of assessing both languages.

Other considerations also apply. For example, there is the possibility of primary language loss (Merino, 1983b). Moreover, a language disorder in bilingual or limited-English-speaking students may manifest itself in the same way as for monolinguals, and sometimes more severely in one or the other language. In addition, to conclude that a student with limited English proficiency has a language disorder, the assessor needs to rule out the affects of different factors that may simulate a language disorder. These include the following: 1. Length of residence in the United States. A

student may manifest "language problems"

in English (poor vocabulary, slow naming

speed, low verbal participation) because of

limited or interrupted exposure to English.

This often happens when families migrate

back and forth between countries. Langdon

(1977, 1983), for example, found that a

bilingual-disordered group displayed more

difficulties in language processing in

Spanish rather than in English because English

language exposure had been relatively short. 2. Attendance-disruption of schooling.

Cummins

reported that on the average, it takes a

student with limited English proficiency

about 2 years to gain basic communication

skills in English. These skills, allowing

context-enhanced communication, are

referred to as basic interpersonal

communication skills (BICS). Five to 7 years may be

necessary for the student to perform

academically at par with monolingual peers.

This is cognitive academic language

proficiency (CALP), or the decontextualized,

decentered sort of language used in schools.

The lower the attendance at school, the

lower the probability of acquiring CALP-like

skills. …

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