Tag Archives: english

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.

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Committing to a Preschool

Well, I did it.

I bit the bullet and signed Big Boy up for a preschool. Big Boy will be 5 in November, but wasn’t eligible to start “prematernelle 4 ans” until this coming September. I am glad for the extra time with him at home, since he only arrived here in Canada from China at 22 mos old, and also to give him some time to catch up in his languages. After going to French-language daycare for two years (he started Nov 2008) two days a week, I think he’ll ready for more of a challenge this fall.

But I had had no idea that signing him up for one particular school over another would be so stressful. I had always assumed that he would go to the small neighborhood school that is only two blocks away, facing the park where we walk Xiao Chien. I assumed this since 1995 when I moved into this neighborhood. There were moves to close it down about ten years ago, as the population aged, but I cheered when community pressure complete with “Save Our School!” banners hanging off balconies succeeded in keeping it open.

It is a French language school, for 4 yr old pre-K through grade 3. It has an annex at the end of our street (even closer for Big Boy to walk to) for grades 4-6. Highschool starts at grade 7 in Quebec.

Well, enter Big Boy’s language difficulties.

And yes, thankyou to everyone who pointed out that he is a boy, is cleft affected, has changed countries, has changed languages, is learning multiple languages etc etc. Unfortunately none of these things can now account for, two years later, the lag in his expressive language. His vocab is great when you ask him what things are, and increases exponentially every 6 months when he has another speech evaluation. But his sentences have not kept up, and have scarcely evolved in the past six months. He is at LEAST a year or more behind. And yes, in Quebec, the speech therapists are used to dealing with adopted children, with children who speak a minority language at home, with bi and trilingualism, and we were at the Cleft Clinic, so they are used to the effects of that as well. Indeed while we were in the waiting room, the other family there was a father with two young boys, who spoke Mandarin, the daughter was in therapy in English, and she went to French school. My son is NOT the exception to the norm here.

The therapist said that none of those things could continue to excuse the lag at this point. And as the Cleft Clinic deals more in actual speech (can he pronounce correctly) we didn’t get a block of therapy, but instead were referred to a Centre where they specialize in hearing and speech disorders. We’ve been on the waiting list since October and they warned us it would be at least a year (which is why I am looking into community resources as per my last post).

Now over Christmas I found out that this Centre also has a school, which is part of the English Language School Board here. They actually have 4 yr old Pre-K through grade 3 (and beyond if needed). The mother of another boy adopted from China says her son has improved fantastically while in school there and recommended it. There are speech therapists within the school, so no running around to appointments all over town and missing school. They even have door to door bus service for the kids.

Now, it makes more sense to give a solidly anglophone-identified child speech therapy in English. Indeed it would be hard to evaluate his sentence structure in French, as he seldom utters a complete French sentence at this point. He has understood almost everything you say to him in French for almost two years now, and now will answer “oui!” when asked a French question, has lots of vocab, and for the past couple of weeks has even started accosting strangers on the street to ask “Quoi appelle?” to find out the name of their dog. But the lack of sentence structure in French is really normal as it is his third language since birth, and it is not the dominant language in his life.

In Quebec, things are quite complicated (both in daily life, getting services and in schooling). There is an English Language School Board and a French Language School Board. And because of language laws, only certain people are eligible for a certificate to go to English school. My son happens to be one of those people, since I did the majority of my primary school in English within Canada. I have to apply for a letter attesting to such from my home province (which I have done).

But, do I want him to go to school in English? I am working so hard on getting him bilingual in English and French and he is making huge progress in daycare. He told me just yesterday “Taotao talk French in garderie, mommy. And in dancing class too talk French. And play with le Petit Chevalier (his little friend) too talk French. Taotao knowing French mommy!”

And if he went to preschool, kindergarten and grade one in English, how hard would it be for him to then merge into a French classroom? I personally can help him with his English phonics (see ReadingEggs post), and feel very comfortable with English grammar. But I learned French slowly and painfully as a teen and young adult, and would have a hard time teaching a new reader how to sound out “parfait” “souliers” “Mireille” “bateau”… I know they have completely different methods of teaching all those vowel combinations. And my vocab is probably not the best compared to what they expect in a francophone school. Touring two schools during open houses the past couple of weeks made that very clear.

So, I do have a preference to send him to French school despite his language delays. Well, turns out that one of the neighborhood schools, perhaps 10-15 minutes walk away, through a commercial district, has speech therapists on staff. It is a much larger school, pre-K through grade 6. It seems to have better, newer and spiffier equipment. The rooms are larger, the yard is larger. And there was even a family there, newly immigrated from China, who spoke Mandarin with their 4 yr old daughter who is currently in English daycare here. That is a big draw. Slogging all those extra blocks through the snow all winter is not.

But I let emotion rule the day. The closest school is tiny and so close. It is friendly and homey. All the teachers and kids know each other’s names. They are very artsy fartsy and do lessons based on Matisse and Riopelle. The pre-K teacher talked convincingly about learning to name and express emotions in an acceptable and controlled manner through play and allegory. They offered milk and gingerbread men with red sugar sprinkles at the open house. And they have great lunchtime and afternoon care: we see their students traipsing through the park to the playground daily when we walk Xiao Chien. And Big Boy’s best buddy, le Petit Chevalier, will be starting there this fall too.

And I already have to deal with the fact that out of 210+ students, 200 are in the lunchtime and afterschool program, and unlike my maternal fantasies for the past 45 years, my son will likely NOT come home for lunch every day. That is already so hard to swallow!

So, will I regret it? Will I wish I had sent him to the specialized language school in English? Will I wish I had sent him to the larger French school with a speech therapist on staff? I don’t know. I figure, this is just Pre-K for four year olds. If he falls behind, I can move him for Kindergarten or Grade One. That is what I tell myself.

But for now, I want him close to home, close to friends, in a small friendly homey environment that feels right.