When I write reviews they are normally about non-academic books that I recommend for ALL my readers. Today’s book, Assessing Multilingual Children (subtitle: Disentangling Bilingualism from Language Impairment, edited by Sharon Armon-Lotem, Jan de Jong and Natalia Meir), is none of those – it is fairly academic and not everyone will want or find the energy to read it.
So why am I reviewing (and recommending!) this book? Because it is a hugely important book which can make a world of difference to how bilingual children are assessed when it comes to potential Specific Language Impairment (SLI). The book provides “guidelines for developing instruments and test items to distinguish typically developing from SLI bilinguals” and is a “handbook for practitioners who look for measures which could be adapted to a variety of languages and diverse communities”.
Unfortunately, there are still therapists, teachers and doctors who tell parents of bilingual children to drop one of the family languages as the solution to any language related issues. This is an incorrect piece of advice, which can actually do more harm than good. Such practitioners would be well served by reading this book and learn that:
FACT: Bilingual children should not be assessed for SLI using the same criteria as monolingual children, since the specifics of their linguistic development are different.
FACT: Bilingual children with diagnosed SLI have it in both/all their languages.
FACT: Bilingual children with diagnosed SLI would have it even if they were monolingual.
FACT: Bilingualism is not the cause of SLI.
With contributions from researchers in 24 different countries, Assessing Multilingual Children presents a comprehensive set of tools which are suitable for testing and diagnosing linguistic abilities in children who speak more than one language. The tools are named collectively as Language Impairment Testing in Multilingual Settings (LITMUS), and they are available upon request via the Bi-SLI website. You can read more about the background and purpose of the book in Sharon Armon-Lotem’s blog post.
The tools range from eliciting responses using specific questions and repeating sentences or nonsensical word lists to assessing children’s ability to create and understand stories, parental interviews and many more. Each method is explained in detail, and there are instructions for how to adapt them to different languages and for how to interpret the results. There is also an extensive list of references for further reading for the different tools.
Who is this book for?
I do not expect parents of bilingual children to rush out and buy this book (even the significantly cheaper paperback version), but I would like everyone to be aware of its existence.
If you are concerned about your own bilingual child’s language development and are not averse to reading moderately academic text, I do think you would benefit from reading at least some of the chapters to learn about the new approaches to assessing bilingual children. (Maybe you could ask your nearest university library to purchase a copy of it and borrow it from there.)
If your bilingual child is being assessed with regards to his or her linguistic abilities, make sure that whichever practitioner conducts the tests and gives a diagnosis, has either read this book or is aware of the appropriate assessment tools.
If you are a speech (and language) therapist/pathologist who deals with bilingual children, Assessing Multilingual Children should definitely have pride of place on your bookshelf and bear the signs of thorough reading!