Grammatical Morphology in Children Learning English as a Second Language Implications of Similarities With Specific Language Impairment Clinical Forum
Clinical Forum  |   July 2005
Grammatical Morphology in Children Learning English as a Second Language
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Johanne Paradis
    University of Alberta, Edmonton
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Language Disorders / Specific Language Impairment / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Clinical Forum: Speech, Language, and Hearing in Bilingual Children
Clinical Forum   |   July 2005
Grammatical Morphology in Children Learning English as a Second Language
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, July 2005, Vol. 36, 172-187. doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2005/019)
History: Received December 8, 2003 , Revised April 15, 2004 , Accepted June 23, 2004
 
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, July 2005, Vol. 36, 172-187. doi:10.1044/0161-1461(2005/019)
History: Received December 8, 2003; Revised April 15, 2004; Accepted June 23, 2004

Purpose: This study was conducted to examine whether the expressive language characteristics of typically developing (TD) children learning English as a second language (ESL) have similarities to the characteristics of the English that is spoken by monolingual children with specific language impairment (SLI), and whether this could result in the erroneous assessment of TD English-language learners (ELLs) as language impaired.

Method: Twenty-four TD language-minority children who had been learning ESL for an average of 9.5 months participated in the study. The children’s accuracy and error types in production of the following grammatical morphemes were examined in spontaneous and elicited speech: third person singular [-s], past tense [-ed], irregular past tense, BE as a copula and auxiliary verb, DO as an auxiliary verb, progressive [-ing], prepositions in and on, plural [-s], and determiners a and the. The elicitation probes were part of a recently developed standardized test for identifying language impairment, the Test of Early Grammatical Impairment (TEGI; M. Rice & K. Wexler, 2001).

Results: The ELLs’ accuracy rates and error patterns with the grammatical morphemes were similar to those that have been reported for same-age monolingual children with SLI, in both spontaneous and elicited speech. In addition, the ELL’s elicitation probe scores were compared to the criterion scores and group means from the sample of monolingual children used to develop the TEGI and their performance on the TEGI was in the range of the clinical population even though there is no reason to suspect that any of these children is language impaired. Both analyses point to the possibility that TD ELLs could be mistaken as language impaired.

Clinical Implications: The results provide information that can be used to set appropriate expectations of error patterns and rate of grammatical development in the early stages of ESL learning. The results also emphasize how the use of English standardized tests with nonnative English-speakers is not a good practice, and suggestions are given for points to consider when assessing ELLs.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to first thank the families who generously welcomed us into their homes and into the lives of their children, even when they were experiencing the many economic and social challenges that arise from moving to a new country and culture. I would also like to acknowledge the support and mentorship of my research collaborators, Martha Crago, Fred Genesee, and Mabel Rice, whose insights have helped to shape the research presented here. I owe many thanks to the students and research assistants who have recruited families and collected and managed the data: Lisa Brown, Julie Coutu, Lindsay Griener, Laura Marcon, and Cinnamon Suyal. Finally, I would like to thank the following organizations that helped us recruit participants: ABC Head Start, NorQuest College English Language Training, ASSIST Community Services Centre, The Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, and The Women’s Multicultural Healthbrokers.
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Standard Research Grant 410-2002-0093) and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (Establishment Grant 200100341), for which I am grateful.
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