Multilingual Language Evaluation Issues

Well, this multilingual thing is really not helpful when it comes to evaluating Big Boy’s language abilities.

I was so looking forward to another professional evaluation of Big Boy’s progress in the expressive language department. It seemed to me that he has made great leaps forward in forming sentences in the past month or so, and I was very eager to have a speech therapist declare “he is CURED! He is CAUGHT UP! We DISMISS him from needing further intervention!”

Ahhh, the dreams of mamas. All to naught. First, I was a bit surprised by the set up of the evaluation… she had just set out all sorts of toys (mostly a Little People house with garage, and all the fixings: people, animals, cars, furniture etc) and just seemed content for the first twenty minutes to let him play with it. Of course, Mr. Big Boy who normally does NOT SHUT UP, and who chatters on and on and on, “mommy, I want to show you something, look at this, mommy be a chevalier, mommy let’s fly on the backs of dragons, mommy why don’t you be a wingwalker at the air show? mommy look what I can do! mommy mommy mommy!” hardly said a sentence. Mostly he took the cars and bus and did a lot of spectacular crashes and flying around in the air with sound effects, and looked at all the items one by one uttering such brilliang things as “mmmm! ooh! wow. hmmmm. ahhh” Sigh. I wanted to pull my hair out. MAKE HIM TALK!!! HE CAN TALK NOW!!! The other speech therapist seemed to be much more engaged in activities that would require talking on his part.

When I remarked up on it later, she explained she wanted to see what his spontaneous speaking was like. Hmmm. His spontaneous speaking in the park if you give him a stick and he has to make believe is WAY more revealing than setting a whole toy shop in front of him so he can just pick things up and look at them and go “oooh! wow! ahhh!” Sigh. Even having left the toys on the shelf so he had to ask for them would have gotten him to talk. Oh well.

She did do some more structured testing, where he was supposed to give an appropriate response. I can see that this sort of thing is really hard. “Here is a boy… he has a dog. And here is a girl…. ” “Look! A cat! The girl has a cat!” Hmmm, yes I see you are trying to get him to say “SHE has a cat”. oh well. But we could see he is not totally clear on he vs she, on adding S to make a possessive, and on pronouncing N well instead of substituting M.

The end result? He is making longer sentences but still missing a lot of the filler words, missing a lot of grammar, missing a lot of sounds or rather substituting sounds… sounds that we don’t have in the English language, so really hard to write HOW he pronounces them. I cannot even pronounce how he says “Hair” “Smell” “Spoon”. He also has issues with blended consonants like SP, SM etc. So he is still on the waiting list for the MacKay Center (specialty language center, whether it is hard of hearing, deaf, speech therapy etc). Since Oct past now… and we may not get in til Nov this year. It is all frustrating.

But the multilingualism? Where does it cause issues in evaluation? The speech therapist wanted to know if other people understand him besides me. Hmmm. Now that is so very hard to evaluate. His little friends are mostly French, and his French is way behind his English (expressive), and so they tend to talk a lot and he repeats words. Friend: “Je serais le chevalier et tu dois être la princesse qui est emportée par le dragon”. Big Boy: “Moi, chevalier!” Well, of course his friend understood him. But what does that say about his language abilities, and esp about his English abilities?

The daycare isn’t much more help. Again, they are mostly unilingual francophones who know a wee bit of English… if they don’t understand him it could be 1) they wouldn’t understand even if it were said clearly in English 2) they don’t know that his English is not as good as it should be as it is much better than theirs 3) if he misses words in French, well it says nothign about his primary language abilities, it is just seen as an anglophone who is struggling with a second language… 4) it is hard for someone who is speaking a second language with a child to understand kids’ mispronunciations. I have a HORRID time trying to understand little french kids even if I can carry on a great conversation with their parents all in French. So, do they understand him? I don’t know. Yes and no.

And how about other people around Big Boy. I must have sounded pitiful in that I don’t have another parent, another regular caretaker, friends that come in regularly or anything. The french friend of his we see the most often: the kids play together in the park or livingroom and I chat with the mom. Sometimes he talks to the mom: “Marie-Anne, I would like more cheese please”. Well, yes, she understands that. But does he have more sustained conversations with her? not often. We have a babysitter about once a month, but most of the time he is asleep. We have a chinese tutor once a week, but we are trying to speak chinese. Neighbors and service personnel in the neighborhood are the same situation as the daycare: they are francophone, so they might not understand a word if he speaks English, or if they do understand, they are using single words like he is, or he is speaking short French phrases. The Chinese dépanneur owner (corner store) does understand when he comes in and says “Ni Hao! Zai Jian!” or sings “Liang zhi lao hu” in Chinese. Sigh!

I really felt null not being able to answer the question “Do other people understand him”. What sort of parent doesn’t know this? Well, one who is a single mom who works at home, no extended family around, teaching three languages, in a multilingual environment.

I just have to remember I am proud that he functions in such an environment very well, with great gusto and social extroversion.


6 responses to “Multilingual Language Evaluation Issues

  1. Ah just erased my rather lengthy comment! I am also now frustrated!
    To sum up, that evaluation sounded really uncreative! It is a universal problem that kids don’t talk when you want them too! And the question of if others understand Big Boy is odd to me. I would never ask if people understood my kids. They either did, faked it, or sometimes did but ignored the boys because maybe they don’t like kids. When I doubt my mama skills I just remind my self I have only been a mom for so many years and a mom of an 8 or 6 year old since August. And I know that at the end of the day we love the boys more than anyone!

    • Well, actually “do other people understand the child” is a standard question in anything about expressive language. Often the parent knows the child so well, that even a word evokes a whole event, a garbled sound is understand to mean a particular word etc… and a parent or immediate caretaker might not notice at all just how NOT understandable their child is until the child says something to a neighbor or third party and that person is like “I didn’t understand a thing he said!”

      Most children by the age of 4 or 5 should be pretty much intelligible (if not in context, then the actual words) to most anyone. I am constantly amazed when a 3 yr old or worse, a 2 yr old, comes out with clear concise comments, questions and multiple paragraph long exposs with well constructed grammatical sentences that are easily understandable… sometimes cute mistakes like “I go-ded” instead of “went” (but showing the child understands the english rule of verb + ed = past tense) or mispronunciations like “heclilipter” for helicopter. But in comparison to my child, who I find quite understandable, like listening to a native chinese speaker compared to myself, stumbling along with a few sentence structures, a lot of pointing and single words.

      My problem was more the fact that we live in a mostly French outside world, so most of them can’t really judge his intelligiblity in French, as well as having not a lot of immediate family and friends closeby, so that I usually talk to them on the phone after he is asleep.

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  2. Oh, that sounds frustrating. But it also sounds like you’ll have a lot more input soon, as he goes into school. Well, some kind of input. My kids are eerily, crazily articulate–not always to our advantage! Just for one example, when our daughter was about 3, I turned the corner in the grocery store to find my husband dragging her out of the open-topped ice cream freezer by her feet. She was screaming, “Mommy lets me use my judgment! Mommy lets me use my judgment!” at the top of her lungs. I was mortified.
    Anyway, I wouldn’t let the question of if he is intelligible to others, or your worries about isolation, overshadow the fact that you are giving him tons of wonderful input (in three languages!), and that he absolutely will speak wonderfully well someday soon! He sounds really bright, and attitude (extroversion!) is everything…

    • Thanks a lot Christine! Actually, I got the written evaluation, and it is a lot clearer than what she told me in her office… he makes long sentences, within normal range for his age, but he makes mistakes that he shouldn’t be making at that level: not consistently using he/she him/her or personal pronouns for himself, not using ‘s possessives, not using future or past verb tenses (ie not even making the standard “-ed” on the end of everything error which would indicate an internalized rule), or “it’s” sentences. Ie will say “car! horse!” instead of “it’s a car. They’re horses” and plurals: 2 horse, 3 horse, 5 mouse. etc. Though, lol, no plural nouns and no verb tenses is very Chinese. Too bad I can’t boast he is a fluent Chinese speaker and that’s where he gets it from. He has another evaluation by a francophone speech therapist in about 9 hours… we’ll see what she says.

      But I really appreciate you pointing out all the multilingual stimulation I DO do… sometimes that gets lost in all the “you can stimulate your child verbally by….” advice! thanks!

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  3. “Mommy be a chevalier, mommy let’s fly on the backs of dragons”–maybe he doesn’t have his pronouns and past tenses perfect yet, but but I bet he’s off the charts when it comes to imagination! You’re giving him three languages–and he understands them already–how amazing is that? Bon courage.

    • Thanks. Though I admit he got the chevaliers from his little guy friend who is SO verbal in French! And the flying dragons was my initiative (as an alternative to all the killing off dragons by chevaliers!… very Anne McCaffrey! Remind me to show him pictures!). But he does run with it when suggestions come up. His understanding is better in English than French and both are light years ahead of his Chinese comprehension, but hey, it is a start eh?! Merci!

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