Don’t get burned by the “Home Language Survey” !!!

We all get referrals for students with secondary language backgrounds and upon inquiring about language of dominance we are told to check the Home Language Survey. Never has a document carried so much weight and been so underfunded with current information. Why distrust the Home Language Survey?

Most are completed when a child enters school (age 4) and not updated.

Most are made up of 1-3 questions with no clarification questions asked.

Most are only provided in English (figure that one out).

How can we get more accurate information about language use?

Here are some questions we can ask:

• What language is the TV and radio set to?

• What language is used with the parents?

• Who else is living at the home? Older siblings are often fluent English speakers.

• What language is used in the classroom?

• Who does the child hangout with and what do they speak?

Why do we want more accurate information about language use?

If students use different languages across different settings, what should we expect? We would expect different sets of vocabulary to exist in each language and different abilities to exist in each language. This is important information to gather when considering whether a child is impaired or just has a language difference. Here is some interesting related research.

• High correlation between language exposure and vocabulary production (Pearson, Fernandez, Lewedeg, & Oller, 1997).

• For bilingual toddlers 30% of vocabulary is translation equivalents (Pearson, Fernandez & Oller, 1995).

• Young school-age bilinguals produce same # of category items in Spanish and English BUT 70% are unique to one language (Peña, Bedore & Zlatic, 2002).

• English-speaking parents use more nouns

• First words of English speakers are typically nouns (Gentner, 1982; Nelson, 1973)

• Mandarin Chinese-speaking parents use more verbs

• First words of their children are nouns and verbs (Tardif, 1995)

• Korean-speaking parents talk about activities more

• First words of their children are nouns and verbs (Choi, 2001)

Written by: Scott Prath

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