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Multilingualism and Dyslexia: Challenges for Research and Practice Tony Cline* University of Luton, UK Over the last two decades there has been an expansion of activity and substantial progress in research on dyslexia and research on bilingualism and multilingualism. But the study of dyslexia has generally focused on monolingual learners and the study of bilingualism has tended to focus on speakers who do not have special educational needs.
   Multilingualism and Dyslexia:Challenges for Research andPractice Tony Cline* University of Luton ,  UK  Over the last two decades there has been an expansion of activity and substantial progress in research on dyslexia andresearch on bilingualism and multilingualism. But the study of dyslexia has generally focused on monolingual learners and thestudy of bilingualism has tended to focus on speakers who donot have special educational needs. This paper will review thestrands of research to date that have a bearing onmultilingualism and dyslexia and attempt to identify the majorchallenges that face researchers and teachers. A satisfactoryresponse cannot be developed without a full understanding of the impact that dyslexia has on language learning and theimpact that multilingualism has on literacy learning. Copyright© 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Keywords:  multilingualism; bilingualism; dyslexia; reading; literacy; learning difficulties INTRODUCTION C onsider for a moment a work of science fiction—a popular bookabout people who inhabit parallel universes. Life and work continuein each world—simultaneous, contiguous, and yet not touching. Thehero and the woman whom he loses at the end of the story live by differentconventions and cannot understand each other. The pain in the novel ariseswhen their paths cross. If that did not happen, their lives would be simplerand more comfortable—but also narrow and rather dull. The point of thestory is that only when they meet does each discover something importantabout the self they thought they knew when living in their separate worlds.Research in dyslexia and research in bilingualism have generally inhabiteddifferent worlds. So have the associated groups of teachers. Research ondyslexia and developmental work on good practice in this field have gener-ally focused on monolingual learners. Research on bilingual children anddevelopmental work on good practice in their education have generally * Correspondence to: Tony Cline, Department of Psychology, University of Luton, ParkSquare, Luton LU1 3JU, UK.DYSLEXIA  6:  3–12 (2000)Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  T  .  Cline 4 focused on speakers who do not have special educational needs. Progresshas been made in parallel and without significant contact. It seems likelythat these groups could learn much from each other that would illuminatethe general picture in their own field. Hopefully this special issue and theconference from which it grew will facilitate that process. However, theprimary aim here is to consider a specific population that is the concern of  both groups—bilingual and multilingual children and adults who experi-ence learning difficulties in literacy.IDENTIFYING DYSLEXIA: CAN WE SEE WHAT WE ARE LOOKINGAT?Dyslexia refers to a language problem—a difficulty relating to the analysisof words in print. But most definitions of dyslexia have not used aspects of language development as their key reference point. Perhaps for that reason,issues of overall language competence have often been overlooked in re-search (Cline and Reason, 1993). The problem is not restricted to research. Incontrast to the picture in the USA, children from linguistic minority commu-nities appear to have been under-represented in the UK in educationalprovision for pupils with dyslexia. We have argued that this is a predictableconsequence of the way in which dyslexia has traditionally been identified.Early exclusionary definitions highlighted socio-cultural difference. The ef-fect was that an extra hurdle was placed in the way of bilingual children’saccess to provision. This meant that practitioners had to show ‘that culturaldifference could be eliminated as a primary contributor to the learningdifficulties being experienced’ (Cline and Frederickson, 1999).Later exclusionary definitions, which highlighted a discrepancy betweenIQ and achievement, underpinned what is still the most common approachto the identification of dyslexia in the UK (Pumfrey and Reason, 1991) andthe USA (Frankenberger and Fronzaglio, 1991). An IQ–achievement dis-crepancy definition is simply a special type of exclusionary definition thatuses one exclusionary factor rather than several. There are many objectionsto this type of definition (Frederickson and Reason, 1995), some of which areof particular relevance when the child in question is bilingual. It is widelyheld that IQ scores based on a test administered in English lack reliabilityand validity for bilingual children whose language proficiency in English isstill developing (Ashby, Morrison and Butcher, 1970; Figueroa, 1989). Whenimmigrant children are assessed on such tests, the gap between their meanscores and those of indigenous children becomes smaller the longer theyhave been in the country (Ashby, Morrison and Butcher, 1970). Over the5–7-year period required on average for the development of cognitive–academic language proficiency in an additional language, English IQ testsunderestimate the cognitive skills of children for whom English is anadditional language (Cummins, 1984). Consequently they may fail to meetspecific learning difficulties criteria and be deprived of additional resources.So where IQ tests are used with bilingual pupils, IQ is likely to be under-estimated and with it the incidence of IQ–achievement discrepancies.In addition, where IQ–achievement discrepancies are embedded in Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Dyslexia  6:  3–12 (2000)   Multilingualism and Dyslexia  5 administrative eligibility criteria, avoidance of IQ testing with bilingualpupils will also lead to under-identification (Gersten and Woodward, 1994;Cline and Frederickson, 1999).A Working Party of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educa-tional and Child Psychology has been reviewing the assessment of dyslexia.In line with developments in other countries such as the Netherlands(Gersons-Wolfensberger and Ruijssenaars, 1997), this group is proposing theadoption of a working definition of dyslexia which has no exclusionarycriteria and relies instead on the concise description of positive identifyingcharacteristics. Dyslexia is evident when fluent and accurate word reading and / or spellingdevelops very incompletely or with great difficulty. This focuses on literacylearning at the ‘word level’ and implies that the problem is severe and persistentdespite appropriate learning opportunities. It provides the basis for a stagedprocess of assessment through teaching (BPS, 1999). There is sometimes a poignant moment in fictional accounts of paralleluniverses when the heroine falls sick and experts from the hero’s world areunable to diagnose what is wrong with her. The science they have studiedhas not prepared them for the type of infection that afflicts her. They look sohard for what they are expecting to see that they cannot see features that anelementary analysis from a different perspective would reveal immediately. The first challenge that faces us in this field is to learn where to look when we wishto identify dyslexia in young bilingual children . The wide-ranging work in thisfield is likely to be most fruitful where it does not take the key concepts of language proficiency, reading competence and dyslexia for granted buttreats them as problematic. Only through detailed analysis and tight opera-tional definitions will such concepts yield to replicable investigation. Onlythen will fair arrangements for assessment and provision be possible.ACCOUNTS OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF DYSLEXIALongitudinal case studies of dyslexia have played an increasingly importantrole over the years in advancing our understanding of the phenomenon. Onereason for this is that they enrich the picture created by some other researchof a one-way causal launch pad for reading difficulties. It sometimes appearsin the literature on the aetiology of dyslexia that investigators are concernedsolely to identify the disposing factors that put learners at risk in the firstplace. While that must be a crucial task with any developmental problem, akey feature of interest in this case is the persistence and changing appear-ance of the phenomenon. Maintaining factors interact with the originalpattern of influences in complex ways that are of both theoretical andpractical interest. For example, an external factor such as weak classroomcontrol, if it persists over an extended period, might affect the operation of the child’s supervisory attention system at the cognitive level, at least in theschool setting. The continued maturing of the system and its application tonew kinds of activity and in new kinds of setting are placed at further risk.The child’s ability to respond to intensive additional teaching could be Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Dyslexia  6:  3–12 (2000)  T  .  Cline 6 adversely affected (Frederickson, 1997). In the case of bilingual learners it isdifficult to ignore complex interactions of this kind over time, because the balance and focus of bilingual development shift through childhood inresponse to the changing language demands of the environment. This issueneeds to be examined more fully through an analysis of the dimensions of developing bilingualism.DIMENSIONS OF BILINGUALISMThe title of this issue of the journal has two key terms—multilingualism anddyslexia. Up to now I have focused mainly on the elaboration of one of theterms—dyslexia. However, another important challenge that faces us is toclarify the other term. What lies behind the development of bilingual ormultilingual language proficiency, and how does that development relate toliteracy learning problems. This issue is often overlooked in the literature, but the relationship between bilingualism and literacy is at least as problem-atic as the definition of dyslexia. Just as writers have tended to overlookrelevant social and language factors when describing the populations theystudied, authors on bilingualism and dyslexia have tended to take notionssuch as ‘bilingual’ or ‘ESL’ for granted. It is rare to read a paper in this fieldin which the sample that was investigated is located with any precision onmultiple dimensions of bilingualism. If there were more work in this field,we would almost certainly face the problem that has often afflicted researchon dyslexia: confused and contradictory findings would arise because partic-ipants had been assigned to experimental and control groups on the basis of criteria that were only defined in very vague terms.An important strand of work is the investigation of dyslexia in differentlanguages (see Goswami’s paper in this issue). What impact do differences between languages have on the frequency and nature of the problems thatoccur when learning to read them? It is already evident that differences inorthography can have a dramatic impact. How can we best make sense of the steadily growing body of data on that issue, and what other features of different languages have an impact on dyslexia? The answers to suchquestions often treat the demand characteristics of the written language asthe sole aspect of bilingualism that will affect the outcome. This appears tounderstate the possible significance of other aspects of bilingualdevelopment.Thus, in the dyslexia literature, as in the cognitive psychology literaturegenerally, there is a tendency to define bilingualism in somewhat narrowterms. It is implicitly assumed that learning more than one language is atechnical task that can be adequately described in terms of a cognitivedimension alone. This ignores the emotional, social and cultural significancethat is associated with becoming bilingual in most literate societies. Rampton(1990) and Leung, Harris and Rampton (1997) have proposed a simpleframework of three dimensions for describing people’s associations with thelanguages in their repertoire:   expertise—degree of proficiency in a language; Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Dyslexia  6:  3–12 (2000)
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