Skip to main content

06.09.2023   kl. 11:15 - 12:15

DIAS Guest Lecture: The Bilingual Delay is a Myth

Guest Lecture by Elizabeth D. Peña, Associate Dean of Faculty Development & Diversity at University of California Irvine

Worldwide, about half of the population is bilingual or multilingual. Many children grow up using and hearing more than one language at home. In addition, through immigration, some children have exposure to a home language and to a second language at school and the greater community. Thus, patterns of bilingual language acquisition can be highly variable. An educational challenge in this population is how to distinguish between typical and atypical performance in L1 and L2 use.

Comparisons of bilingual children’s language to monolinguals may contribute to high rates of misidentification of developmental language disorder. On the other hand, assumptions of a “normal” bilingual delay may contribute to documented delays in identification and intervention.

In this talk I will present data examining 1) whether bilingual children are at elevated risk for developmental language disorder (DLD); 2) how we can combine L1 and L2 performance to increase diagnostic accuracy for determining DLD in bilinguals; and 3) the nature of the “bilingual delay” using a person-based vs. a variable-based approach.


Elizabeth Peña, Ph.D. CCC-SLP is a professor in the School of Education at UCI. She is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and is a Fellow of the American Speech Language Hearing Association.

Her research focuses on two lines of inquiry that address the goal of differentiating language impairment from language difference. These two interrelated areas include dynamic assessment and semantic development in bilinguals leading to test development. Dynamic assessment tests ability to learn new language skills. In contrast, standardized tests asses what children already know.

The advantage of focusing on learning is that it greatly reduces bias by not assuming lack of knowledge is lack of ability. She further focuses on language impairment in children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Specifically, she is interested in how children from diverse linguistic backgrounds learn new language skills and how they lexicalize their conceptual knowledge across two languages. Through careful qualitative and description of bilingual children’s performance, she is currently focusing on potential similarities among typical monolingual and bilingual children as well as differences between typical and impaired bilingual or monolingual children.

Her work on test development for bilinguals has focused on assessment of semantic skills using a battery of related tasks. Because typical vocabulary tests rely on knowledge of specific vocabulary items children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds often perform below age expectations, possibly leading to misdiagnosis. The bilingual semantics test tasks are designed to allow responses that reflect cultural knowledge and allow children to respond in Spanish, English, or both. Outcomes of these efforts have resulted in publication of the Dynamic Assessment and Intervention: Improving Children's Narrative Abilities protocol and the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment test.

The lecture takes place in the DIAS Seminar Room, Fioniavej 34. Everybody is welcome and no registration is needed.