It is essential to get a thorough background of the child’s language development and acquisition, including exposure to other languages and dialects, in order to differentiate a disorder or delay from processes of normal second language acquisition. Here is an explanation of what the language background and use section should include. 

1. Languages and dialects currently spoken:

This should describe any and all languages and dialects the child speaks and/or understands as well as any exposure. It is important to remember that even if a child does not speak another language, he may speak another dialect of English. For example, in New York City, African American English is a very common dialect. This dialect of English has morphosyntax and phonological development that is different from Standard American English. An evaluator who was not trained to be sensitive to dialectal influences could mistake the typical development of African American English for a disorder.

If the child does have exposure to other languages, the history of this exposure should be noted. Have there been changes in the amount and frequency with which the child was exposed to English or another language? For example, if the family has moved from an area where another language was predominantly spoken to an area where English was predominantly spoken, this would impact the development of the two languages. What language(s) are spoken in the home and by whom? Does the child have any caregivers or relatives in the extended family that speak other languages or dialects? Does the child spend time with children or peers who speak other languages?

You should ask:

Critical Question 1- What exposure has your child had to different languages or dialects?

A child’s language may be evidence of a language disorder or normal 2nd language acquisition (i.e., silent period), subtractive bilingualism, correct dialect forms, code-switching, language transfer,etc

2. Language Developmental Milestones:

When did the child say his or her first word? When did he or she start speaking in multiword combinations?

You should ask: 

Critical Question 5- How does how the child’s speech and language development compare to his/her siblings at the same age or to peers in the child’s speech community?

A child should always only be compared to the norms and expectations of his community. The examiner should be careful not to project his or her own expectations of child development onto a child from a different cultural, linguistic and/or socioeconomic background.

Example: Only Spanish is spoken at home. J did not respond to English. He and his mother are monolingual/Spanish speakers, and they speak the standard Mexican dialect of Spanish.


The Critical Questions

Speech and Language Milestones