bilingualism

Bilingualism and math standards

I am preparing for an upcoming presentation on instructional strategies for young children who are dual-language learners.  I am really fascinated by the language used in the Common Core Mathematics Standards.  You might wonder what bilingualism and mathematics standards could possibly have to do with each other.  Well, I think quite a lot.  These standards remind me of numerous advantages that many bilinguals have been found to experience, such as with problem-solving skills.


Take a look, for example, at the first two goals which you can find on page 6 of the Mathematics Standards (http://www.corestandards.org/Math/):

  1. “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution.”
  2. “Reason abstractly and quantitatively. Mathematically proficient students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations.”

For brevity, I’ll highlight a few particular areas and phrases to illustrate why these standards make me think of bilinguals:

  • “They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems… the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize”
  • “…to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved”
  • “…attending to the meaning…not just how to compute”
  • “…knowing and flexibly using”

So, attention, abstraction, symbols, manipulation, meaning, flexibly using—do not these terms also all relate to the natural experience of being bilingual?  Bilinguals attend to the language being used; they may display early understanding that words are abstract and arbitrary symbols to convey meaning that vary by language; they demonstrate the ability to manipulate language use to communicate in one language with one person, the other language with another person, and even both languages simultaneously with certain people in some situations to enhance meaning.  Talk about flexibility!

The mathematics standards are much more than rote memorization and computation; they target underlying cognitive skills in attention, analysis, abstraction, flexibility, and creative thought processes in which bilinguals have been shown to have advantages.

In my mind, this is all the more justification for not only allowing children to maintain their first language, but strongly encouraging and supporting parents’ endeavors to raise their children with more than one language, and therefore, experience the benefits that bilingualism affords them.

The Current and Growing Need for Multicultural/Multilingual Preparation

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has reported that the prevalence of communication disorders is approximately 10% of the population.  This means that more than 31 million people in the U.S. are affected by speech, language, and/or hearing disorders which negatively impact their social, academic, and occupational communication skills.  The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (2013) estimates that the number of speech-language pathologists will grow by 23.4 percent over the next 10 years, with approximately 28,000 new jobs in speech-language pathology by 2020.

There is a significant need for more speech-language pathologists, and in particular, greater numbers of professionals with specialized training to serve culturally and linguistically diverse populations.  Approximately 1 in 5 people in the U.S. speak a language other than English.  Therefore, more than 6 million people would benefit from the services of a bilingual speech-language pathologist to help them meet the communication demands in the social, academic, and occupational contexts of their daily lives.  In the state of Illinois, 22.2% of individuals speak a language other than English at home (U.S. Census, 2010).  According the American Community Survey (ACS), the ten most commonly spoken languages after English in Illinois are Spanish (58.60%), Polish (7.54%), Tagalog (2.94), Chinese (2.25%), German (1.89%), Korean (1.89%), Arabic (1.75%), Urdu (1.61%), Russian (1.61%), and Italian (1.56%).

EcuadorsArt | Boston Massachusetts

To help meet the demand for professionals who can provide optimal services to diverse populations, the graduate program in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Elmhurst College will begin offering a Multicultural/Multilingual (M&M) Emphasis in the fall of 2015.  Such an emphasis is urgently needed in the greater Chicago area and many areas of Illinois where speech-language pathologists and audiologists serve individuals from numerous language backgrounds.  This emphasis is designed for students with oral proficiency in more than one language who wish to pursue specialized academic, research, and clinical experiences to meet the unique needs of culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

In accordance with ASHA’s practice policy (please see http://www.asha.org/policy/KS2004-00215/), the emphasis will foster students’ language proficiency, cultural competence, knowledge of typical and atypical speech and language development in diverse speakers, and their ability to provide appropriate assessment and intervention to diverse populations through a combination of coursework, clinical experience, and if students choose, an international travel experience.

We are excited about this effort to better serve our communities in the greater Chicago area and beyond.

Late talking and the impact of bilingualism

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

A very common question that I receive from speech-language pathologists and parents is whether or not growing up with two languages can cause late-talking. When SLPs say “late-talking,” we are generally referring to children who are producing approximately 50 words or fewer by two years of age. Children with normal language development are generally producing between 200 and 300 words at that age, and of course, they are understanding many more.

Many other professors who specialize in dual-language issues often receive the same inquiry. Therefore, to help address this common question, Dr. Alejandro Brice and I created a short online video relevant to the topic which you can view and share at http://youtu.be/zT0x-EqanGg. In this video, I discuss the incidence of late-talking and summarize the research, which, in a nutshell, does not indicate that early bilingual exposure causes late-talking. Finally, I share a memorable experience with one of my own children.

We hope you find the video helpful!