Discriminating children with language impairment among English-language learners from diverse first-language backgrounds

J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2013 Jun;56(3):971-81. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2012/12-0050). Epub 2012 Dec 28.


Purpose: In this study, the authors sought to determine whether a combination of English-language measures and a parent questionnaire on first-language development could adequately discriminate between English-language learners (ELLs) with and without language impairment (LI) when children had diverse first-language backgrounds.

Method: Participants were 152 typically developing (TD) children and 26 children with LI; groups were matched for age (M = 5;10 [years;months]) and exposure to English (M = 21 months). Children were given English standardized tests of nonword repetition, tense morphology, narrative story grammar, and receptive vocabulary. Parents were given a questionnaire on children's first-language development.

Results: ELLs with LI had significantly lower scores than the TD ELLs on the first-language questionnaire and all the English-language measures except for vocabulary. Linear discriminant function analyses showed that good discrimination between the TD and LI groups could be achieved with all measures, except vocabulary, combined. The strongest discriminator was the questionnaire, followed by nonword repetition and tense morphology.

Conclusion: Discrimination of children with LI among a diverse group of ELLs might be possible when using a combination of measures. Children with LI exhibit deficits in similar linguistic/cognitive domains regardless of whether English is their first or second language.

Keywords: English-language learners; assessment; child bilingualism; child second language acquisition; language impairment; narratives; nonword repetition; parent questionnaires; tense morphology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Language*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Language Development Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Language Development*
  • Language Tests
  • Language Therapy / methods*
  • Linguistics
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vocabulary