Late talkers in any language

« previous post | next post »

The next symposium that I'm planning to attend at AAAS 2012 is "Late Talkers in Any Language: Finding Children at Risk Worldwide", organized by Nan Bernstein Ratner. The abstract:

A major public health need worldwide is early identification of toddlers who are slow to talk. Early child language delay often signals other developmental problems and may limit eventual educational and vocational achievement. Thus, developing efficient, easily administered, universal toddler language instruments is critical. However, this step is also challenging because of cross-linguistic and cultural diversity and cost barriers. This session will present international research conducted over the past two decades that has made impressive progress toward achieving this goal by using standardized parent reports. Topics include the challenges involved in adapting the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (CDI) for use in numerous cultures and languages, strategies that have been successfully used to address these challenges, and major cross-linguistic universals as well as differences that have emerged from CDI adaptations for 69 languages. The panel will offer findings regarding identification of late talkers in four countries using the Language Development Survey, how to detect the correlates of persistent or transient early language delay, and associations with behavioral and emotional problems. Also presented will be how bilingual children master two languages concurrently, and how vulnerable bilingual late-talkers such as immigrant toddlers may be at risk for later educational or vocational failure if not properly identified.

Again, it's a shame that these presentations are only available to the people who happen to be here in Vancouver, and are not attending one of the 25 (literally) other simultaneously-scheduled symposia, presentations, and committee meetings.


  1. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

    Is it at all possible to get a transcript — or any materials related to the presentation? I am desperately in need of information on this subject, as I am an infant-toddler teacher at a center where almost all of the children are growing up bilingual (and whose parents are in ESL, GED, or other educational programs, some quite basic).

    We often wonder about specific bilingual children, as to whether they're delayed or just leisurely in their language acquisition, and local screening resources often don't know either. It would be really useful both to know how to tell the difference and also how to intervene early and on-invasively.

    [(myl) I'm sorry to say that the AAAS refuses to make it possible for outsiders to see videos, slides, or transcripts from these symposia, on the (I think false) grounds that if they did so, fewer people would pay to come to the meetings. The argument seems similar to the concern that if you let people watch sporting events on TV, no one will want to pay for tickets to the live events…

    The presentation on bilingual development was given by Erika Hoff. Here's her abstract:

    Erika Hoff, Florida Atlantic University, Davie
    Many, if not most, of the world’s children grow up exposed to two or more languages. In order to identify those bilingually-developing children who are late talkers, it is necessary to know the normal time course of bilingual development. Using the MacArthur inventories, we assessed the early English and Spanish language development of children in the U.S. who were exposed to both languages from birth, and we compared the bilingual children’s development of English to the English language development of a group of monolingual English learning children from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

    We found that the rate at which the bilingual children developed vocabulary knowledge was virtually identical to the rate of vocabulary learning in monolingual children when the bilingual children’s combined English and Spanish vocabularies were counted. However, when comparison was made of the bilingual children’s English vocabulary to the monolingual children’s English vocabulary, the bilingual children took significantly longer to achieve the same vocabulary size. The bilingual children also reached the milestone of producing word combinations at a later age than the monolingual children. This finding, that it takes longer to learn two language than one — even for young children, suggests that identification of late talkers among bilingual children requires an assessment procedure that takes into account the children’s knowledge in both their languages.

    One of the studies whose results she discussed is Hoff et al., "Dual language exposure and early bilingual development", J Child Language 2011. Two relevant plots:


  2. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    Thank you! I knew that part, though . . . (and of course in our actual day to day dealings with children we don't feel like we're seeing two-year-olds knowing half the otherwise expected words in each language: they certainly seem to know more than that. Which might be a result of the environment in the program, but I'm not sure I'm ready to claim that without objective data).

    What I want is to know when Pretty Quiet Baby is in need of significantly more support than we're already giving all the babies, versus when Pretty Quiet Baby is doing fine anyway. And then, what the appropriate support is for her age group.

    That's a nasty policy, by the way. There is a whole world of non-professionals out there, like me, who could _never_ attend the proceedings but who need to know what's going on in the world of science — we do important work and it matters whether we're doing it with real information or old suppositions. (can you imagine trying to go to AAAS meetings on a childcare worker's wages — even before the 30% wage cut we all enjoyed this last year?).

  3. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    February 18, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

    Sorry for spamming: the link to the article doesn't work for me, alas.

    [(myl) My fault — you should be able to get the abstract now, and I believe that the full text can also be reached from there.]

  4. marie-lucie said,

    February 19, 2012 @ 10:40 am

    Regarding the acquisition of vocabulary, it might be interesting to know whether those bilingual children are "exposed" to the two languages within the family or if there is a dichotomy between family (Spanish) and daycare (English). My daughter was raised in English Canada as a French (mother) and English (father) bilingual and I don't think that her English-language development was any different from that of monolingual English children. Her French vocabulary was less than that of a monolingual French child, because apart from a few children's books I was her only French language wource, and it was only later that she associated with monolingual French-speaking children – and her French vocabulary increased dramatically then.

  5. Von den Gefahren des Wissenschaftsjournalismus… « "pure unadulterated jabberwocky" said,

    February 21, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

    […] zitiert Mark Liberman im Language Log das abstract von Hoffs Vortrag in vollem Umfang (hier; in seinen roten Anmerkungen zum ersten Kommentar). Ich darf grade mal übersetzen: ÜBER DIE […]

  6. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    February 26, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

    Marie-lucie, speaking anecdotally, I can tell you that we do see differences in vocabulary for children who come from bilingual homes as well. It's hard to pin down because the speech behavior of very small children does vary a lot. But the way it _looks_ in every day life is that many of the children growing up bilingual choose to say certain words in one language and other words in the other: and some of the children growing up bilingual are just a bit less talkative in one or the other or both languages in those early months.

    As I said before, while I have no reason to doubt the numerous studies coming up with similar results for bilingual children's early vocabulary acquisition, we seem to be seeing kids who have more words than expected — but maybe our monolingual kids have more words than expected too. Our emphasis is on language development and literacy (for the whole family, not just the children we care for). I would love to do a study of this, but I don't know how to do it. It would be helpful if we could test the results of the methods and materials we use.

    At our center, we have a sprinkling of children who are trilingual or more in their early days (when their home language is neither English nor Spanish). All of the kids like this I can think of are the children of intellectual workers, so I kind of expect them to have strong language skills early on, and they do.

RSS feed for comments on this post