Stuttering and Bilingualism in Children and Adults

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Re: Stuttering and Bilingualism in Children and Adults

From: Tiziana di Rocco, S-LP student, McGill University
Date: 19 Oct 2008
Time: 19:52:17 -0500
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I chose this article without knowing that Prof. Shenker (one of my profs this semester) had contributed to it...honestly. My choice stems from my own interest in language acquisition and specifically in all topics related to language processing and use by bilinguals. With this commentary I intend to fulfill a course requirement by Dr. Shenker, (making up for our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday Monday), and contribute my thoughts regarding one of the questions Dr. Shenker addresses in her article, i.e., should one of the languages of the dysfluent bilingual child be eliminated in order to improve fluency? If so, which one? Bilingualism comes in several forms and in a quest for clarity I will use examples from forms that may be found here, in Montreal: 1-it may be contributed by the parents with each one speaking a different language, one parent English and the other French 2- it may be because the child speaks one language in the home with both parents English, (the L1) and another in the majority community in which he lives French, (L2) 3-it may be because the child speaks one language at home and in his community, English, but attends school in French. As Dr. Shenker explains, there is very little scientific research to help parents and professionals decide whether one or the other language should be eliminated; lack of scientific research however, is not the only issue to consider when attempting an answer to these questions. It just so happens that this week, I finished putting together information about how to provide language intervention to bilinguals and surprisingly, (or maybe not so surprisingly), the same two questions came up: should intervention only be given in one language and if so, which one? Research in different branches of theoretical linguistics suggests that a second language is never a hindrance. It appears that maintaining one language actually helps in the acquisition of another and language skills acquired in one language can, in some cases, generalize to the other. Unfortunately, we cannot generalize these interpretations to issues of fluency…however, even for language intervention, the findings from theoretical linguistics only offer theories about how to design interventions for bilinguals and no evidence based practice information. So it appears that science cannot yet help us with the question of whether to eliminate one of the bilingual’s two languages. Other considerations can however. The child that speaks two languages does so because s/he lives in a bilingual environment; this means that the child must be a competent communicator in both languages. If we consider scenario 1 of the three listed above, eliminating one of the languages the child uses in the home with one parent could result in the child eventually loosing his bilingual status. Not being able to speak the language of one of his/her parents means that there may be a break in the child’s intergenerational relationships because s/he may no longer be able to communicate with those family members who are also speakers of just the eliminated language. In the case of scenario 2, the result may be isolation if the eliminated language is French; scenario 3 may result in a traumatic change due to change of school and of language of instruction. In conclusion, whether or not science will eventually contribute solid evidence regarding bilinguals and fluency, the question of what to do with the ‘other’ language is one that must be considered carefully because being bilingual is not just about being able to communicate in two languages, it is also a part of who we are as individuals.

Last changed: 10/19/08