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Assessing child speech learning difficulty in languages other than English

Charles Sturt University (CSU) speech and language acquisition researcher Sharynne McLeod has studied children’s multilingual speech learning and how it may be related to speech difficulties.

McLeod, who hailed from the CSU Research Institute for Professional Practice Learning and Education (RIPPLE) in Bathurst is undertaking her study for her Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to examine the amount of communication-impaired Australian children who speak a language apart from English.

She aspires to help in developing projects to secure support for these children. Her recent Elizabeth Usher Memorial Lecture was delivered her at the Speech Pathology Australia national conference on the Gold Coast.

It was reported that over 15 per cent of Australian children aged four to five years old speak a language apart from English at home.

“We know that 12-13 per cent of school children have communication impairment, but there is a large gap in our understanding of how this applies to children who learn languages other than English,” McLeod said.

The researcher highlighted the importance of early intervention for communication impairment, and said that if not immediately acted upon, it can result to literacy and proficiency problems later on in school. McLeod stated that it may also result in employment and social disadvantage for the children as they grow into adults.

She cited that the challenge at hand is in giving speech pathologists the tools to enable the detection of whether a child has difficulty in learning all languages, or whether they only have difficulty in learning succeeding languages.

McLeod is confident that with modern technological developments, speech pathologists can work with multilingual children through best practice reviews from local, national and international collaborations.

Her study had entailed longitudinal studies of Australian children. She also used the work of speech and language professionals globally to be able to form international speech evaluation tools that can detect communication impairment in more than 40 languages.

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