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Hmong Speech and Language Development – Difference or Disorder?

If you are a speech-language pathologist who lives in Minnesota or Wisconsin, chances are, you’ve encountered a Hmong speaker.  Recently, I’ve had a lot of emails from all over the United States requesting information on Hmong speech and language development.  Before we dive in, here is a little background information. Hmong Speech and Language Development

About Hmong

Where are Hmong speakers from?  Hmong is spoken by people in China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.  There are about four million Hmong speakers worldwide and approximately 250,000 Hmong speakers in the United States.  The majority of Hmong speakers in the United States are in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Sound Systems of Hmong and English

If you’ve read our book, Difference or Disorder:  Understanding Speech and Language Development in Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds, then you Hmong Speech and Language Developmentalready know that we need to understand the similarities and differences between the sounds of languages before we can make a decision about whether a speech error is a language influence error or whether it might indicate a speech impairment.  So, take a look at the Venn diagram’s below for information about the consonants and the vowels in Hmong and English.

Assume we are testing a child from a Hmong background who is learning English as a second language.

If errors occur on the sounds that are unique to English, that is indicative of language influence.

If errors occur on the sounds unique to Hmong or the sounds shared between Hmong and English, that is indicative of a speech impairment.  

It’s more complex than that, obviously, but that’s a good place to start.  Then we need to think about the order of acquisition of the sounds in development, and of course the phonotactic constraints.  For more information on all of that, check out the Difference or Disorder book.

Hmong Speech and Language Development

Hmong Speech and Language Development

Hmong Speech and Language Development

The use of phonological processes in Hmong speakers

More About Hmong

  • A study by Briggs (1984) found the three most frequently occurring processes used by both groups were Cluster Reduction, Sonorant Deviation, and Prevocalic Voicing. This means that these phonological patterns are shared between both English and Hmong and can be addressed in therapy.
  • We can’t forget to talk about tone. Hmong is a tonal language. There are 6 tones and they are phonemic. In other words they mean different things even when the same consonant-vowel combination is uses. The six tones are described as high, mid, low, high falling, mid rising, creaky (my personal favorite), and low falling breathy.
  • Now, we have to talk a bit about language differences, too. This following table highlights a few of the linguistic differences between Hmong and English. These differences help you to know what language influence errors you might see. And remember, if the errors result from an influence from the other language, we don’t have to worry. That is a normal part of learning a second language.


Feature Hmong English Possible Errors
Pronouns Subject and object pronouns are the same Subject and object pronouns are different He hit he.*
Plurals Nouns are not marked for plurality Add “s” to nouns Four dog*
Adjectives Nouns precede adjectives Adjectives precede nouns Dress blue*
Tense Verbs are not modified for tense Verbs are modified for tense Sally jump*
Gerunds Do not exist Exist bark dog*/barking dog

A chapter on Hmong is slated to be included in the next edition of Difference or Disorder.  The chapters in the current book include:  Arabic, Czech, Farsi, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.  It also includes a chapter on African-American English.

Thank you for all the great feedback for all the languages you are requesting information on!  We have published posts or are working on:  Albanian, Amharic, Cambodian, Cantonese, Flemish / Dutch, Filipino/Tagalog, Hmong, Igbo,  Karen, Kinyarwanda (ever heard of that one?), Portuguese, Romanian, Somali, Thai, Turkish, and Urdu/Hindi.  For those not familiar with our current book, we’ve already compared and contrasted English with Spanish, Vietnamese (see post about it), Hebrew, Korean, German, Czech, Japanese, Farsi, Mandarin, French, Russian, Arabic, and the African-American English dialect.

If there are other languages you would like to see, please let us know with your comments below!

Written by: Ellen Kester

23 Comments on “Hmong Speech and Language Development – Difference or Disorder?”

  1. January 27, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

    Thanks for this helpful post, Ellen!
    I just had a question today from an SLP who has a student who is exposed to both English and Telugu. Parents and teacher are concerned about his speech sound production. I had just read this post and was able to share the link with her. Even though it is about another language, with a little research about the phonology of Telugu, the concepts regarding sorting difference from disorder can still be applied!

    • January 30, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

      Hi Lori,
      Thanks for your comments. Yes, you are correct that the same approach can be applied for any pair of languages. I know that all of your FWISD SLPs have the Difference or Disorder book. Chapter 1 describes the framework we use to compare and contrast speech and language patterns in any language pair. It really makes it pretty simple to identify whether errors are due to native language influence or whether they are indicative of impairment.

  2. February 1, 2017 at 2:56 pm #

    Hello! I stumbled upon this site by accident and I am loving it! One reason is that I am a current graduate student studying speech language pathology, and I’ll be graduating in May. The second is that I am Hmong! I’m really wanting to give bilingual services when I get a job, but I haven’t had much experience with it. I’m also very interested the differences that Hmong has with English and would like to study more on it.This is very helpful! I can’t wait for the new book!

    • February 1, 2017 at 3:08 pm #

      Also, if you know of any SLPs who are Hmong or provides bilingual services in Hmong, please let me know because I am very interested in it. Thank you!

    • February 1, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

      Hi Mary Lee,
      So glad to hear you stumbled across this blog post and loved it. In our first Difference or Disorder book we included a piece from native speakers of each language on culture and their experiences learning a second language. Would you be interested in sharing some of your experiences for the next book? If so, send me an email at ellen.kester@bilinguistics.com
      Thanks for your kind comments about the blog post!

  3. February 3, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    Would it be possible to add Nepali to the list? We are increasing the numbers of Nepali speaking students who are Bhutan refugees in Minneapolis. Thank you for your consideration.

    • February 3, 2017 at 11:31 am #

      Hi Linda,
      Thank you, we will add it to the list and keep digging. How fortunate you are to be exposed to those cultures!

  4. May 3, 2017 at 6:52 pm #

    I would be interested in information on the Chaldean Neo-Aramaic language. In the Detroit, Michigan greater metro area, there are large numbers of Chaldean Neo-Aramaic speakers. Also, information on Bengali would be appreciated, too! Thank you!

    • May 3, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

      Hi Eleanor,
      Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is a new one on me. I look forward to exploring it. I’ve added Bengali to the list also.

  5. January 3, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

    Do you have any information regarding the R sound? I didn’t see that phoneme represented on the Venn diagram.
    Thank you!

    • January 4, 2018 at 10:29 pm #

      The rhotic r of English is on the “unique to English” side of the Venn for the Hmong-English comparison. It is represented by the upside down r in IPA.

  6. January 9, 2018 at 7:52 am #

    Hello, is there any research to help ELL students whose native language is Pohnpeian language from Micronesia.

    • February 4, 2018 at 8:22 pm #

      Hi Michele,
      I don’t currently have information on Pohnpeian but I will add it to our list.
      Best,
      Ellen

  7. March 7, 2018 at 8:48 am #

    When is your new book coming out? Trying to decide to wait and order your book until the new one comes out. Thank you.
    Tanya

    • March 7, 2018 at 3:26 pm #

      Hi Tanya,
      Thanks for checking in about this. We are still a ways off from completing the second edition–it just keeps growing!
      Ellen

  8. October 4, 2018 at 2:08 pm #

    Hi! I love your website and just left a district where we all had copies of the Difference or Disorder book and am so sad not to have it anymore!
    I saw in the paragraph below that you have a post on Cambodian but I can’t find it! I have a preschooler who speaks Cambodian that I need to evaluate.
    Thanks!

    • October 4, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

      Hannah, hopefully your new district will get you the DOD book too! I just sent some information about Cambodian to your email. Best, Ellen

      • February 21, 2019 at 9:48 am #

        Hi! I’m in the same situation where I have to evaluate a student who speaks Cambodian. Would you be able to also send me information through email?

      • February 21, 2019 at 5:49 pm #

        yes

      • March 11, 2019 at 11:13 pm #

        Hi,
        I own the first Bilinguistics Difference or Disorder book and constantly refer to it! I can’t wait to purchase the new one. I am currently assessing a student who speaks Cambodian. Could you possibly email me this information as well? I am having difficulty finding information on Cambodian speech/language differences.
        Thank you so much for your help!

      • March 12, 2019 at 10:22 am #

        Hi Kathryn,
        I am so glad the Difference or Disorder book is a great resource for you. I sent some information about Cambodian to your email.
        Best, Ellen

  9. December 7, 2018 at 11:58 am #

    Hi thanks for the info on Hmong. Any chance you are developing similar info for Lao?

    • December 7, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Nicole,
      It’s in the works but not available yet.

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