What We Do

Our Mission
Our Research: Current Studies | Completed Studies | Questions
Community Engagement: Supporting Families| Presentations | Collaborations

OUR MISSION

The Bilingual Language Development Lab studies development in bilingual children with and without language difficulties. We look at the connections between the development of language and thinking skills and characteristics of a child’s language and social environment. One of our main interests is code-switching, when both languages are used together in a conversation or even in the same sentence. We study how children with and without communication disorders use and understand code-switching. By contributing to a better understanding of bilingual development, we hope to address problems of both over- and under-diagnosis of communication disorders in bilingual children, and to provide services to children and their families that promote development in both languages. We also aim to be a resource for families and professionals who serve bilingual children.  


OUR RESEARCH

Our research currently focuses on how Spanish/English bilingual children with and without language difficulties learn to use and understand code-switching, when both languages are used together in a conversation or even in the same sentence.

Current Studies

Español e inglés a la vez: Talking and Listening in Two Languages

We invite children between the ages of 4 and 6 who speak both Spanish and English to participate in this online Zoom study about how children talk and listen in two languages. Children who are receiving speech/language therapy for language difficulties and children who are not receiving therapy can participate. Participation involves 3 sessions of about one hour each on Zoom for your child, as well as some questionnaires for you to complete. Your family would receive a gift card to thank you for your time. We hope that the results of our project will help to improve the way we do evaluations and provide intervention to bilingual children with language difficulties.

Please visit this link (https://bit.ly/3oTJkMf ) to learn more and to answer some questions to see if your child would be eligible. Then we will follow up with you. You can also contact us directly at 413-800-6628 (call/text) or by email at megangross@umass.edu (Megan, director), alopezgonzal@umass.edu (Ada, doctoral student) with any questions.

Investigating Bilingual AAC Practices in Bilingual Communities

Analise Castillo is a lab member and undergraduate student at UMass Amherst who is conducting a thesis study about bilingual AAC teaching practices used by professionals working in English-Spanish bilingual communities throughout the United States. We are actively looking for speech-language pathologists, special education teachers, educational psychologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists in the U.S. to participate in a 60-minute Zoom interview. Specifically, we are looking for professionals who work with clients who are regularly exposed to both English and Spanish, and who use a picture-based AAC to communicate. Please click on the link below to learn more about the interview process, and to complete a brief (5-minute) survey expressing your interest in participating: https://umassamherst.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cUAAWSrTUM5fqCy  If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact us: Analise Castillo (amcastillo@umass.edu) or Dr. Megan Gross (megangross@umass.edu).

Johanna Salisbury-Ferguson is a lab member and graduate student at UMass Amherst who is conducting a thesis study about bilingual AAC teaching practices used by professionals working in bilingual communities, specifically Catalunya, Spain. We are actively looking for speech-language pathologists, special education teachers, educational psychologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists in Catalunya to participate in a 45-60 minute Zoom interview. Specifically, we are looking for professionals who work with clients who are regularly exposed to more than one language, and who use a pictogram-based AAC to communicate. Click on the link below to learn more about the interview process, and to complete a brief (5 minute) survey expressing your interest in participating: https://umassamherst.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_7QfKzzHQhDRLjiC If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact us: Johanna Salisbury-Ferguson (jsalisbury@umass.edu) or Dr. Megan Gross (megangross@umass.edu)

Completed Studies

Naturalistic Conversation vs. Experimental Control

In addition to the interactive picture description game, which is a more controlled context for observing language behavior, we collected conversation samples in which children interacted with an examiner speaking only English, speaking only Spanish, or code-switching between English and Spanish. We are examining children’s code-switching behavior in these three conversational contexts. We are also interested in how children’s code-switching when describing pictures compares to their use of code-switching during conversation.

Check out the abstract of our presentation at the (virtual) International Symposium on Bilingualism in July 2021: https://isb13.wls.uw.edu.pl/conf-data/ISB13/files/book%20of%20abstracts/BoA_ISB13_13072021v9.pdf (p. 370)

Speech Language Pathologists’ Language Choices during Speech/Language Therapy for Bilingual Children

One of our recent graduates, Kylie Dubé, developed her honors thesis study around the specific language choices speech-language pathologists make while providing intervention for bilingual children with communication disorders. This study used a mixed-method approach where both quantitative and qualitative data were collected.

Check out our blog to learn about Kylie’s experience presenting her work at the ASHA Convention: https://blogs.umass.edu/bld/2022/01/27/research-noticias-asha-2021/

Language Control in Bilingual Children with Low and Typical Language Skills

This project looked at the language choices bilingual children make when interacting with monolingual conversation partners who only speak one of their languages. We were interested in how children with different levels of language ability adjust their language choices for their listener and how easily they are able to switch back and forth between languages. We were also interested in the role of cognitive control, or executive functions (skills involved in regulating thoughts and behavior more generally), in helping children to control their language choice. To examine these questions, we designed an interactive picture description game for children to play with English-speaking and Spanish-speaking video partners. The data collected from this larger project were used to address a few different research questions as described below.

 

Cognitive and Linguistic Predictors of Language Control:

Click here for a recent paper about our findings related to language ability and cognitive control. In summary, we found that children with stronger language skills were more successful in aligning their language choice to their partner. In addition, children who did not pass the cognitive control task had more difficulty when they had to switch back and forth between two partners who spoke different languages compared to when they played with one partner at a time.

 

Finding the Right Word:

One of our recent graduates, Masha Levit, used data from this project for her honors thesis, Finding the Right Word: Lexical Strategy Choice in Bilingual Children. She examined the strategies children used when they had difficulty coming up with a word while describing pictures to their partner. Children’s tendency to use a related word in the partner’s language, to switch languages, or to skip the word entirely was related to both their own language dominance and the majority/minority status of English vs. Spanish.

 

Code-switching and Language Control in Bilingual Children with Developmental Language Disorder:

Clich here for a recent article about our findings regarding langauge choices and code-switching behavior in a subgroup of children in the project with limited language skills in both English and Spanish. In summary, the children with Developmental Language Disorder were more likely to respond in English to a person who only speaks Spanish than their typically developing peers, even those with limited Spansih skills. However, there were no differences in the tendency to mix languages within the same sentence. These findings suggest: 

1) it is important to consider different types of code-switching (within sentences or between people) in research studies and clinical evaluations 

2) children with DLD especially need support to maintain their expressive skills in Spanish

 

Other questions we are interested in:

  • What are the challenges and benefits of telepractice for bilingual service delivery?
  • How does family language policy and use of code-switching in the home relate to growth in both languages, cognitive control, and social cognition in bilingual children with developmental disabilities?
  • What do parents, educators, and speech-language pathologists who work with bilingual children wish we knew more about? Your questions help make our research relevant! 

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Supporting Families Raising Bilingual Children

Spanish-speaking parents/caregivers of children with special needs are invited to participate in our new program, Supporting Families Raising Bilingual Children, which started in September 2021. This program takes place one evening a month on Zoom (or at the Flats Community Building in Holyoke) and includes: 

  • A mutual support group for parents/caregivers led by a fellow bilingual parent for sharing experiences, challenges, information, resources, and advocacy 
  • Workshops from experts addressing topics selected by the group 
  • Hybrid option to participate in person or via Zoom 
  • Bilingual language and literacy activities for children run by a bilingual speech-language pathologist and other trained student volunteers to provide supportive learning and socialization opportunities and so you don’t have to worry about child care 
  • Food provided (when we meet in person)
  • Bilingual book and activity packet to take home 

Families can learn more and sign up to participate by completing this brief, secure survey (https://bit.ly/38ohD64) or by calling/texting 413-561-2481 (Nereida).

Families will also have the opportunity to contribute to a research study about this program by sharing their thoughts through surveys and an interview. Parents will receive a gift card for their time spent completing the surveys and the interview. Your child can also receive brief progress monitoring assessments in Spanish and English.This program is funded by a Public Service Endowment Grant from UMass Amherst and is a collaboration among OneHolyokeCDC, Kelly School, and researchers at UMass Amherst. Feel free to contact Ada López González (413-800-6628; alopezgonzal@umass.edu) or Megan Gross (413-800-6628 or megangross@umass.edu) with any questions.

Presentations

Our team is available to facilitate discussions in English or Spanish about bilingualism and development. We enjoy the opportunity both to share what we have learned so far and to learn from the experiences of families and professionals. Groups such as organizations serving families, Speech-Language Pathology or Special Education teams, teachers, and others may be interested in the topics that follow:

Sample topics for parent groups

  • Bilingual language development (what to expect, language facilitation strategies)
  • Recognizing signs of language disorders in bilingual children
  • Discussion about home language choices

Sample topics for teachers and SLPs

  • Evaluation methods for bilingual children
  • Supporting ELL students in the classroom
  • Developmental disabilities in bilingual children

Collaborations

OneHolyoke: We assist the community engagement team in planning programming that supports literacy and positive development in bilingual youth. Visit OneHolyoke at their website or Facebook page.