Language Characteristics

Assessing and Teaching
EXC 7130
Definition of Language
Any code employing signs, symbols, or
gestures used for communicating ideas
meaningfully between human beings.
– Social tool to communicate meanings,
feelings, and intentions.
– Language comprises of receptive skills
(understanding) and expressive skills (use)
and includes both written and oral forms.
Theories of Language
Behavioristic: Skinner
– Infant begins with no knowledge of language, but
possesses ability to learn it through reinforcement
and imitation
Nativistic or psycholinguistic: Chomsky
– Child is prewired for language development and
the environment triggers its emergence
Interactionistic: Piaget
– Language occurs through fixed developmental
Language Components & Skills
– Phonology
– Morphology
– Syntax
– Semantics
– Pragmatics
Functionalist Language Theory
Study and use of individual sound units in a
language and the rules by which they are
combined and recombined to create larger
language units.
 Phonemes are the unit of sound such as /s/
or /b/ , they do not convey meaning.
 Phonemes alter meaning of words when
combined (e.g., sat to bat).
Phonological Deficits
Frequently appear as articulation
– Child omits a consonant: “oo” for you
– Child substitutes one consonant: “wabbit”
for rabbit
– Discrimination: child hears “go get the nail”
instead of mail
Study and use of morphemes, the smallest
units of language that have meaning.
 A morpheme is a group of sounds that refers
to a particular object, idea, or action.
– Roots can stand alone (e.g., car, teach, tall)
– Affixes are bound such as prefixes and suffixes
and when attached to root words change the
meaning of the words (e.g., cars, teacher, tallest)
Morphological Deficits
Elementary aged: may not use appropriate
inflectional endings in their speech (e.g.,“He
walk” or “Mommy coat”).
 Middle school: lack irregular past tense or
irregular plurals (e.g., drived for drove or
mans for men).
 Be aware of “Black English”: “John cousin”
“fifty cent”, or “She work here”.
Study of the rules by which words are
organized into phrases or sentences in
a particular language.
 Referred to as the grammar of the
language and allows for more complex
expression of thoughts and ideas by
making references to past and future
Syntactic Deficits
Lack the length or syntactic complexity
(e.g., “Where Daddy go?”).
 Problems comprehending sentences
that express relationship between direct
or indirect objects.
 Difficulty with wh questions.
The larger meaning component of
 More than single words, includes
complex use of vocabulary, including
structures such as word categories,
word relationships, synonyms,
antonyms, figurative language,
ambiguities, and absurdities.
Semantic Deficits
Limited vocabulary especially in adjectives,
adverbs, prepositions, or pronouns.
 Longer response time in selecting vocabulary
 Fail to perceive subtle changes in word
meaning: incomplete understanding and
 Figurative language problems.
Knowledge and ability to use language
functionally in social or interactive
 Integrates all the other language skills,
but also requires knowledge and use of
rule governing the use of language in
social context.
Pragmatic Deficits
Problems understanding indirect
requests (e.g., may say yes when asked
“Must you play the piano?”).
 May enter conversations in a socially
unacceptable fashion or fail to take
turns talking.
 Difficulty staying on topic.
Preschool and Kindergarten
Difficulty with readiness skills: counting,
naming colors, naming the days of the week,
and using scissors.
 Unable to follow simple directions, follow a
story line, or enjoy listening to stories.
 May exhibit immature-sounding speech, word
finding difficulties, and inability to name
common objects.
Elementary Students
Limited ability to identify sounds, analyzing
and synthesizing sound sequences and
segmenting words.
Problems with temporal and spatial concepts
(e.g., before-after, some, few).
Word finding (retrieval) difficulties exist.
Problems sounding out and blending sounds.
Problems with expressive and oral language.
Secondary Students
Tend to be passive learners and lack
metacognitive skills.
 Problems gaining information from class
lectures and textbooks, completing
homework, following classroom rules,
demonstrating command of knowledge
through test taking, expressing thoughts in
writing, participating in classroom
discussions, and passing competency exams.
Bilingual and Culturally Diverse
Assessment should be conducted in the
student’s primary language.
 Assessment should examine writing, reading,
listening, and speaking skills.
 Assessments should include both quantitative
measures (i.e., formal tests) and qualitative
measures (e.g., observations, adapted test
instruction, and a language sample).
Formal Language Assessment
Standardized instruments used to compare a
student’s performance with pre-established
– Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals,
Peabody Picture Voc. Test
Screening Tests
– Provides general overview in particular area can
norm referenced.
Diagnostic Tests
– Measure one or more specific language
components. See Table 6.3
Informal Assessment
Often used to affirm or refute the results
of formal measures.
 Determine specific instructional
 Use large sample of items and repeated
opportunities for observations.
Informal Tests of Phonology
Analyze student’s production of phonemes in
single words.
– List of all the consonant phonemes + pictures to
depict words containing each phoneme (e.g.,
picture of a pot for initial /p/, map for final /p/).
– Include a comments section to describe the error
– Provide prompts – “Tell me about your weekend
for 3-minute sample, count correct and incorrect
Informal Test of Morphology
Determine mastery level of each morpheme
in a hierarchy (Brown, 1973).
 ing: present a picture of girls playing and say
“The girls like to play. Here they are
________.” Student adds missing word.
 Show a series of 20 action pictures and ask
student what they are doing.
– Accuracy below 90% - morpheme has not been
Informal Tests of Syntax
Expressive syntax: analyzing student’s
spontaneous speech, recording
 Sentence repetition: teacher states a
sentence and student repeats it.
Informal Tests of Semantics
Logical relationships, cause-and-effect, and
verbal problem solving are difficult to assess.
 Verbal opposites: SRA picture cards of 40
pairs of opposites. Student sorts them into
 Word categories: Teacher says a word and
student says as many words in the same
 Semantic relationships: analyzing
spontaneous speech while playing or
interacting with friends.
Informal Test of Pragmatics
Analyze spontaneous speech through
 Transcribe tape – see figure 6.3
 Classify pragmatic function
 Measure inappropriate loudness, talking
at inappropriate times, interrupting the
speaker, and using indirect requests.
Strategies for Increasing
Language Comprehension
Establish eye contact and cue student to
Ask student to repeat directions.
Classroom arrangement to reduce
Use familiar vocabulary when presenting new
Present new concept in as many modalities.
Teach memory strategies (e.g., visual
imagery, clustering and grouping information).
Strategies for Increasing
Language Production
React to the content of student’s message,
then correct syntax error.
Teach language in various settings.
Act as a good language model, have students
imitate what they hear.
Comment or elaborate on students’ ideas to
provide more information.
Use storytelling, role playing, or charades to
improve verbal expression.
Use structured language programs that
provide adequate practice.
Students with Mental Retardation
Develop language more slowly, including both
receptive & expressive delays
 Often don’t use make use of incidental
learning opportunities
 May have insufficient interactions with
children with more skilled language use
 Frequently less effective in social
Students with Behavior Disorders
May possess age-appropriate skills at
phonemic and morphemic level, but
have difficulties with syntax, semantics,
and pragmatics
 Difficulty expressing ideas, feelings,
concerns, and needs
 Oral language may be contain profanity
 Difficulty with social communication
Students with Learning Disabilities
Problems understanding or using spoken or
written language (definition)
Problems with word retrieval and word choice
Ambiguity and lack of cohesion
Inefficient decoding of messages presented
by speech of others
Uneven language abilities in both school and
social settings